While we celebrate the affirmation of equal rights that recently occurred in the New York legislature, let us not forget that this entire process is unnecessary under the American system of laws.
Since when is it up to the legislature to grant basic human rights? If our government (as opposed to religious organizations) chooses to regulate marriage, then it is a no-brainer that every adult American has the right to marry the person he or she loves. Civil marriage brings certain privileges to people such as tax advantages and hospital visitation rights. Denying those rights to some is unconstitutional.
No doubt, the mean-spirited people who espouse minimal government intervention in our lives will file a lawsuit in an attempt to roll back the rights of New Yorkers, just like people of the same ilk have done in California and elsewhere. But any non-activist judge would simply enforce the Fourteenth Amendment which says:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
While legislation guaranteeing rights is unnecessary by simply reading the Constitution, in the past we have had to pass legislation, like the Civil Rights Act, to ensure these fundamental principles are clearly articulated. Marriage Equality is equality and equality is a paramount tenet of our democracy.
Senator Robert Menendez recently re-introduced the Equal Rights Amendment. This is another area where new laws should be unnecessary but the realities of embedded discrimination and hatred require legislation. Let’s seize the moment and modify the ERA to finally ensure that all discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as gender is clearly banned.