New York lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would have made their state the sixth to allow gay marriage, stunning advocates who suffered a similar decision by Maine voters just last month.The outcomes in New York and Maine are disappointing because they would have represented legislative legalization of gay marriage, rather than judicial imposition. The former is more likely to reflect the general will of the people and therefore be more stable.
The New York measure needed 32 votes to pass and failed by a wider-than-expected margin, falling eight votes short in a 24-38 decision by the state Senate. The Assembly had earlier approved the bill, and Gov. David Paterson, perhaps the bill's strongest advocate, had pledged to sign it.
I wonder whether advocates of gay marriage would have greater success if they focussed on civil unions, rather than marriage per se. While the actual difference is small to non-existent, the symbolic difference seems to be large. Widespread adoption of civil union need not be the ultimate goal, but it represents a significant, positive step.
The ultimate goal, of course, should not be marriage for opposite and same-sex couples; it should be civil unions for both, with marriages a private matter left to religions. The strategy of adopting civil unions for same-sex couples would not necessarily achieve this goal, but the current strategy does not appear especially successful either.