Why New York Matters to Me


Ari Ezra Waldman is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. After practicing in New York for five years and clerking at a federal appellate court in Washington, D.C., Ari is now on the faculty at California Western School of Law in San Diego, California. His research focuses on gay rights and the First Amendment. Ari will be writing weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues. 

Follow Ari on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman.

Waldman New York is not only my home, it is my rock, my heart and my love. It is home to people I love, places filled with memories both sad and wonderful, and things I will never forget. It is, and always will be, a part of me.

That is why I cried when a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New York failed by a 38-24 margin in December 2009. I thought I did my part. I donated money, I called senators, I even went to Albany, but only once.

But there is cause for hope. Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of the most powerful governors to sit in Albany since his father, has put the weight of his office behind the push for same-sex marriage. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have spoken to senators directly. Gay rights organizations appear to be united. And, you and I are calling and writing our senators in droves.

You get the feeling that the dominoes are about to fall, that Caesar is crossing the Rubicon, that Scratchy is finally going to survive an encounter with Itchy. President Obama decided that gay rights cases deserve intermediate scrutiny and would decline to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act. Then the President and his allies in Congress set in motion the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Then Governor Cuomo made gay rights his cause celebre. Then three Democratic senators came out in favor of same-sex marriage, then one Republican, then another Republican. One vote away…

Legalizing same-sex marriage in New York is both the realization of a dream and the next logical step in the arc of progress. That sounds contradictory, but think for a moment how far we have come since May 2004 and look at where we are today. And, yet, our ability to marry the man or woman we love seems almost inevitable now.

That is the meaning of New York. Gay marriage in New York will be the tipping point. At some point in the near future, federal appellate courts and the Supreme Court will look to New York as evidence of a tide that turned, where polls shifted dramatically in favor of gay rights and where even conservative Republicans found the gay "wedge issue" to be a waste of time. Judges will see victory for same-sex marriage in New York as allowing them to issue decisions with the knowledge that they are not alone, that they are not forcing an agenda on an unwilling public, because for all the greatness of brave decisions like Brown v. Board of Education, there are countless cases where the Court refuses to get too far afield from current public opinion. We are not there yet. But, I know I will look back on the day New York legalized same-sex marriage as the day when my home told me I was part of a community, that I was a real New Yorker. This week, we are all New Yorkers.


  1. Rich says

    I’m sorry Ari, but I refuse to count votes before they’re cast. I’ve heard this song before, and I have no interest in having my hopes dashed again.

    If it actually passes the Senate, then great. If not, then it’s just another instance of political cowardice.

  2. Jollysocks says

    Too early to celebrate when it could still go 50/50 either way at this point. Three huge factors need to be addressed:

    1) Will the bill pass the Assembly today? People are not focusing on the Assembly, assuming safe passage, but look what happened in Maryland. I’m now hearing the vote might be a lot closer than we think.

    2) Will Skelos even allow a vote on this? This is the biggest factor right here. Everything is dead in the water until we know if a vote will even be allowed.

    3) Will we find one more Republican to push this bill over the top? I believe we will have more than 1 IF Skelos allows a vote.

    Don’t get passive, people. Don’t get cocky. Don’t “emotionally reflect” on what might happen until it happens cause we are so, so close!

  3. Glenn says

    Nicely said, Ari. I dearly hope you’re right, but like Rich, I can’t allow myself to believe it until I see it. If my equality depends upon the Republicans, and for the moment it appears to, I cannot feel secure in it. But I sure hope they prove me wrong.

  4. Ari says

    I don’t think I’m declaring victory or celebrating at all. I am trying to provide an emotional perspective on why it would be so important if we win. I think the gay community’s refusal to engage with reasoned emotion has been a reason for some of our failures in persuading majorities of voters. Rights discourse isn’t enough — everyone has rights and sometimes they conflict. There must be more to the discussion.

  5. Steven says

    Are you delusional? What “tipping point” are you talking about? If anything, polls have showed a decline in support for same-sex marriage in New York over the past two years.

    It is frightening that you may be practicing law with your radical, unconstitutional views. I am a gay male myself and oppose gay “marriage,” and I have been making sure that my voice is being heard in Albany, along with all of the other gay people who are not leftist nuts.

    How dare you mention the Brown case in relation to this one? There is absolutely no comparison to the struggle of African Americans in this country, and that of gays. Gay people ARE equal under the law and have all the same rights as anyone else. You, like many gay people, pathetically play the victim card and try to piggyback off of other people’s actual struggles.

    Were you ever hosed down in the street? Were you ever forced to attend segregated schools? Has anyone in your family been beaten and lynched? I assume the answer is no, so stop the crap.

    Voters in 31 states have already rejected same-sex marriage and I have no doubt that New York would do the same if given the chance. Courts aren’t supposed to base their rulings off of public opinion; they are supposed to be based off of the constitution. The constitution says nothing about this issue, and it is dangerous that someone in law, such as yourself, actually believes that it is okay to manipulate its language to give yourself special benefits.

    If you want gay marriage to be legalized nationally, then please, go about it the proper way by lobbying elected officials in congress to change the laws rather than using liberal judges to ram it down our throats. I highly doubt that will happen, since the people of this country have made their opposition clear.

    Same-sex marriage in America? Keep on dreaming. While you’re at it, pick up a copy of the constitution and read it again, and this time, actually pay attention to what it says.

  6. Mad says

    GOProud, anyway. Log Cabin Republicans are more sane than that.

    I think Jollysocks is right on, although I’m not that worried about the Assembly. 68 cosponsors is more than we had last time, and we won in a landslide. I think the vote will be closer this time, but we still have the votes.

    Write to or call Skelos, especially if you live in his district or anywhere in New York!

  7. TampaZeke says

    Please don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched. Remember Maryland? Remember Delaware? Remember Rhode Island?

    And even if today you become a “real New Yorker”, tomorrow you’ll wake up to the sad fact that you’re still not a real American.

  8. Jollysocks says

    Steven — What on earth are you talking about? This has nothing to do with judges, we ARE talking about elected officials changing laws here. You want us to do that nationally before we change state laws? Doesn’t even make sense (and is actually anti-states’ rights). If you’re going to go on a diatribe about “liberal” judges, go find a Prop 8 posting and rage away.

    Ari — The reason why we don’t want to emotionally reflect on it is because we don’t want the door slammed in our faces again if this doesn’t pass. And the tone of your posting seemed like this was a done deal when nothing’s done until Majority Leader Skelos decides to let it be done. To say “at some point in the future, we will all look back at New York as the evidence that the tide is turned” is premature. We all know that in our hearts, but we can’t get complacent until the bill passes.

    That being said, if it passes, I will dancing on air and will owe Ari a drink for the good work he does for this site!

  9. Jim says

    Yipes. Optimism and a smiles are lovely, but this is a totally premature post. Even if it does pass in New York tomorrow, the notion that NY of all places is a tipping point seems crazy to me. We’re in the bluest of states, and there is some real chance that if it passes here, it will only further encourage people who are against the passage of gay marriage to buckle down and fight harder elsewhere. How long ago was sodomy still illegal in several states? Do we really think the floodgates are going to burst open and we’ll all live in a shiny happy place?

    Let’s save the happiness for when there’s actual good news. In the meantime, I’m cautiously optimistic that one step further will be taken in a long fight.

  10. Glenn says

    I think Ari’s point was that once gay rights, same-sex marriage being among them, have reached a critical level of acceptance in the population, then the courts will be much more willing to rule (e.g., in the Prop 8 case) that such rights are in fact constitutionally required, because then the courts are not getting out significantly ahead of the citizenry. And that legislative adoption of marriage equality by a state the size of NY could be a significant milestone in that process. I agree that “tipping point” may be a bit strong, but his basic point is, I think, well-taken.

  11. Zlick says

    I, for one, don’t mind getting my emotional hopes up. It’s something I don’t mind risking. The urge to dash one’s hopes in advance in order to avoid the possibility of hurt following defeat has a deadening effect on life, imo.

    I grew up in New York, and have an emotional connection with the place above and beyond my emotional connection to this issue balancing right now on such a razor’s edge in such an important state.

    I don’t know what effect my calls and emails have had from an ex-New Yorker who can’t vote for any of these senators in their next election, but we all have to try and have to keep hope alive. My respectful suggestion anyway.

  12. Phil says

    The optimism is a bit premature. However, Ari is correct when he calls New York State a tipping point. Although California and Texas have larger populations, they can’t match New York in terms of national and international prestige and influence. New York is the cultural center of the nation and the financial center of the world, as well as the home of the U.N. and other major international organizations. New York is the face that America shows to the world.

  13. Brian says

    Kind of weird to equate it with Caesar crossing the Rubicon, since that was an extralegal show of force. I would also prefer that gay rights not reach Caesar’s end.

  14. Brian in Texas says

    We’d never have any rights or acceptance if the gay community were largely made up of people like Stephen. If it were not for the “leftist nut” gays of the 50s, 60s, 70s; Stephen would not even be able to proclaim that he is gay openly without being thrown in jail or labeled a sexual pervert.

  15. Brian says

    I appreciate Ari’s post and also believe that an eventual OK of same sex marriage in New York does represent a tipping point of sorts. We’ll cheer when it happens. And, then we’ll ask New Yorkers not to rest on their accomplishments. Millions of Americans will still be denied the rights enjoyed in a handful of states.

    From one of those states where the constitution bans any formal relationship with the man I love, here’s wishing the best for our friends in New York. It will be a happy milestone.

  16. Zlick says

    Speaking of which, what’s the process for amending the New York State Constitution? Because if and when the legislature passes the marriage equality bill, you KNOW the phobes will launch a bid for a constitutional amendment to reverse that, if such a thing is possible in New York.

  17. Ari says

    if i remember correctly, there are two ways to amend the NYS constitution — by legislative proposal first, then the voters, which can happen at any time; or a legislative call for a constitutional convention, which can only happen every 20 years. so, either way, any constitutional amendment has to pass the legislature first.

  18. DB says

    As a rather stagnant Rust Belt state in the least populous and slowest growing region of the nation, New York is unlikely to be a tipping point or trend-setter. However, it is larger than the six states where an individual can already choose the person he or she marries. Indeed, New York’s population (19.5 million) is substantially larger than those six states combined (MA 6.5 M, CT 3.5 M, IA 3 M, NH 1.5, VT 0.5, and DC 0.5). My prayers are with the people of New York today. Hopefully at least 3 Republicans in the state senate will support marriage and the state and U.S. Constitutions.

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