Friday, May 30, 2008

new policy elicits approval, criticism | | The Journal News

Paterson's <br>new policy elicits approval, criticism | | The Journal News

By Suzan Clarke • The Journal News • May 30, 2008

Robert Voorheis, left, and Michael Sabatino of Yonkers were married in Canada in 2003. (Seth Harrison/The Journal News)

Gays and gay-rights advocates in the Lower Hudson Valley reacted with delight yesterday to a gubernatorial directive mandating that state agencies recognize gay marriages performed in other states and countries.

A spokeswoman announced Wednesday that Gov. David Paterson was issuing the order based on a court ruling from earlier this year.

Yonkers resident Michael Sabatino said he was "elated" when he heard the news.

Sabatino and Robert Voorheis were married in Canada five years ago and have been fighting since then to get their marriage recognized in New York. The couple have been together for 30 years and own a home together.

"We're glad that they're upholding this in New York state," Sabatino, who works as a regional sales manager, said yesterday. "It's not gay marriage, not same-sex marriage, it's marriage. I think that's one of the things that we need to educate people on."

State agencies, including those governing insurance and health care, must immediately change policies and regulations to make sure "spouse," "husband" and "wife" are clearly understood to include gay couples, according to a memo sent earlier this month from the governor's counsel.

Gay marriage is not legal in New York, and the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has said it can only be legalized by the Legislature. But the memo, based on a Feb. 1 New York Appellate Division court ruling, would recognize the marriages of New Yorkers who are legally wed elsewhere.

People in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their advocates hope that this step will lead to greater strides.

Phyllis Frank, executive director of the VCS Community Change Project and organizer of the annual Gay Pride Rockland events, said she expected that the community would react with "enormous affirmation" to the news.

People will say that "step by step, piece by piece, in our lifetime - which some of us thought would never happen -we will see the total and complete acceptance by the state, the government, of same-sex marriage," she said, adding of Paterson, "Bless him!"

A statement issued Wednesday by Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, the state's largest gay and lesbian lobbying group, praised the move by Paterson but called for full equity.

"Despite this great news, our families are still not fully equal in the eyes of the law. We strongly believe that LGBT New Yorkers should not have to leave their home state to get a valid marriage license," Capelle said.

Not everyone was welcoming of the change.

The Rev. Duane Motley of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms said the Democratic governor was circumventing the Legislature and courts and slapping New Yorkers in the face.

Granting government benefits to gay couples will come at a cost to the state even as Paterson calls for cuts in spending because of looming deficits, Motley said.

The Rev. Allen Kemp, pastor of Suffern Presbyterian Church, said he didn't think the move was a good idea "from a biblical point of view."

Kemp's church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination, which bases its opinion of the issue upon biblical teachings. Although there is now a movement to legalize gay marriage within the denomination, Kemp said, "I don't think that'll happen, because if we're going to keep our ties to Scripture, then Scripture really defines marriages (as) between a man and a woman."

Nyack's Mayor John Shields' advice to opponents of gay marriage was this: "I would say to them that they have to get over it, that it's not a religious issue, it's a civil issue."

People who live in and abide by the principles of a democratic society deserve the same rights as everyone else, he said.

"Liberty and justice for all without exception," Shields said.

James Young said he hoped that gay marriage in the state is imminent. He and his partner, Jonathan Hornig, had a civil union ceremony in Vermont in 2002. The Lake Peekskill couple also were, as Young puts it, "unlegally married in New Paltz."

While it is expected that the state's new mandate will send some same-sex New York couples rushing to Canada - or to California when that state begins to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on June 17 - Young won't be one of them.

He prefers to remain in New York and "push the envelope" until gay marriage is legalized in this state.

"I think it's a great time for this information to come out because ... Gay Pride Month is June and Rockland has its gay pride events on June 8 and so we have to celebrate these small victories, and also realize that this isn't the end-all, be-all, and we have to continue fighting for gay rights," Young said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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