Dear Gov. Cuomo --
Well, nice work. As an ex-New Yorker, I have an interest in what happens in the state of my birth, and this week you have the spotlight. If the press can be trusted to make a keen snap judgment about current events' long-term impact, you've done something Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could not accomplish: you have changed the face of the debate over the definition of marriage in the English-speaking world forever. You had help, of course, and to list all the sponsors of A08354 would be a little oppressive. But let's make it clear that the bill was introduced "at the request of the Governor." So to you, I offer congratulations that you have accomplished what you have set out to do here.
Let's look at your handiwork, shall we?
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The inspiration for this document is the political premise that marriage is just like voting or property rights. It's just like the right to bear arms, or the right to assemble. That is: no one should be refused marriage if they require it.
Now, at this point, many people on my side of this discussion would leap immediately into the question of what this can possibly mean -- they want to push you immediately down the slippery slope, and say, "well, what about three people who want to be married? What about 5 people who want to be married like those citizens on 'Sister Wives'? What about that?" I think you were clever enough to short-circuit that by making the language of the law only a disqualification of gender-specific language -- not a complete dismantling of all legal standards about the union of two citizens. So for example, bigamy, adultery and incest are all still right out thanks to Penal Law § 255, esp. 255.15, 255.17 and so on. And that's because some things are still wrong, still harmful to society in some sense.
That, by the way, is what gives me hope that this letter can still have some way to reach you. You didn't undo the whole institution, and if I may say so, you still have daughters for whom I am certain you want the best of all things, including a loving marriage where there is no bigamy, adultery, or incest. This is what we all want for our children.
And I think this is part of what motivates you in this law -- the people who have children who are not attracted to a heterosexual union. It is pity for them, and for the avowed happiness of those children, which causes you to say it this way: "Marriage is a fundamental human right."
Now, I think you're wrong about this. I think you and yours have bit off way more than you can politically chew by calling "marriage" a "right", especially since, for example, it is something the government establishes and recognizes by issuing a license. But that's actually my problem, not yours -- because even if I'm right about that, your new law is actually the law now whether you have hung it on the right philosophical hook or not.
What interests me, though, is the parts that come later -- the parts I have highlighted in yellow and red in the sections after the meat and potatoes.
Consider the yellow section: Section 10-B parts 1 & 2 make a pretty broad exception to this new law. In reference to the fundamental right of citizens to marry, you have set something aside: the necessity that any religious organization either marry these people or offer them the use of their buildings. While Marriage is defined as a "fundamental right," someone turned away, for example, by the Catholic Church as not their type cannot thereafter sue the Catholic Church either as a civil claim or any other claim that could come to court.
Now: I get it. This was the hang-up as late as the 6th of June when the "staunch" republicans made it clear that if this law caused the Catholics or anyone else to have to perform the religious ceremony for any couple and not just man/woman couples, the law was DOA. So this exemption was to eliminate opposition to the law on religious grounds.
But what if I'm a Muslim from Sudan, where slavery is legal, and I want to bring my slave with me from my homeland while I am here on business for a year or two. An actual fundamental right in our country is the right to human liberty: that is, slavery is categorically forbidden. Liberty is an actual, fundamental right. There is no way the competing right of religious freedom (of a slave owner) overcomes the right to liberty, and anyone arguing for such a thing would be hectored to repent.
So if the religions of the people of NY state are wrong, and they are denying a fundamental human right to anyone -- even one Sudanese slave here for a short visit with his owner -- winking at it like this is either extraordinarily-shrewd or incredibly jaded. Yet here it is in the law of New York State: a new definition of the administration of a fundamental right!
That is: we have a fundamental human right defined here as being nothing that the religious have to worry about providing.
For all the partying that went on this weekend, I think the people celebrating didn't read the fine print very well. All they gained was the restrictions under law for how they can treat each other, including the claims someone else can lay on their property and person, with no obligation of the chief opponents of what they are doing to recognize in any way that they are doing it.
I'm not sure how you engineered that, but I have to say: well done. Your Dad always came across as extraodinarily-clever and informed when he was Governor, but even he never pulled off something this monumentally-ethereal.
Somehow, you seem to have (at least for the time being) gotten it both ways. Somehow you have made marriage a fundamental right and a thing its opponents have no obligation to accept.
If you could figure out how to do that with the National Debt, you could literally become the king of the world.
Good luck with that, and with the remainder of your term as Governor. I leave this for you to consider with sincere best wishes and the hope that you will know for certain the Jesus of Nazareth is both Lord and Christ.