There can be little doubt that for marriage equality in New York State in 2011, Andrew Cuomo was the indispensable man.
A short 18 months before he signed legislation giving same-sex couples the right to marry, the issue had gone down to a staggering 38-24 defeat in the State Senate. Within weeks of his taking office in January 2011, the new governor rallied advocates while also making clear that the path to victory was one he would forge. He expected hard work and persistence from the team he assembled but he also demanded discretion, faith, and allegiance to his leadership.
It all worked. With one vote to spare.
When he spoke about the victory, Cuomo, being his father’s son, cast it in the proud tradition of the state’s progressivism.
“New York at its finest has always been a beacon of social justice,” the governor said as he signed the legislation shortly after it won Senate approval the evening of June 24.
And Cuomo’s leadership did not only inure to the benefit of New York. It is surely no accident that Democratic governors across the nation — not to mention nearly every US senator from that party — have jumped on the gay marriage bandwagon after seeing all the lovin’ our governor got in the wake of our victory.
Sure, some cynics have sneered that Cuomo saw the lovin’ comin’ as he met with wealthy gay men and attended their lavish political fundraisers. But that doesn’t change the fact that “New York at its finest has always been a beacon of social justice.”
Then how come 16 states offer their transgender residents protections based on gender identity and expression and New York does not?
Why has more than a decade passed since New York enacted a gay rights law with no further statewide action taken to extend those same protections to transgender and gender non-conforming residents who face harassment, violence, discrimination, and poverty?
And why, despite the governor’s repeated promises he would sign the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, have we not seen him put any visible political capital into making certain such a bill reaches his desk?
Surely that has nothing to do with the fact that there are no political fundraisers filled with wealthy transgender New Yorkers with checkbooks in hand. Or so Andrew Cuomo could prove by leaning in to the fight. The New York State Senate will simply not budge on this bill this session unless the governor leans in.
He is leaning in on women’s rights in a big way this month. In fact, Cuomo has never shown the least bit of reticence about leaning in on issues that matter to him.
As a gay man who just married my longtime partner, I am frankly embarrassed that GENDA is not yet the law of New York State. We left the transgender community behind when we passed the hate crimes law in 2000. We doubled down on that failure with the gay rights law in 2002. We said that marriage equality needed to go first in 2011 because it affected far more members of our community than would GENDA.
What excuse is left to us? This Pride Month, we owe it our transgender brothers and sisters to tell Governor Cuomo that their lives matter to us — and they should to him, as well. It’s time to pass GENDA. It’s time for the governor to insist that the Senate do so.
It’s time to make New York a beacon again.