One year ago today, one month following the historic passage of the Marriage Equality Act in New York State, same-sex couples were able to legally marry in New York State for the first time. Just as the battle in Albany leading up to the June 24, 2011 vote had been characterized by great tension, anxiety, and at times utter exhaustion, July 24, 2011 was a day marked by great joy and celebration. I spent the morning in the park on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan, across from the City Clerk’s office, where my congregation, Beit Simchat Torah, had set up a rainbow chuppah, and sang and danced with friends and family as several couples legally married. It was a sweet victory; my congregation had been very involved in the battle for marriage equality, and I personally devoted much of the spring of 2011 to post-carding, phone-banking, meeting with elected officials, protesting and, yes, getting arrested for marriage equality.
According to an article posted online by Democrat and Chronicle, an estimated 11,500 same-sex couples (that’s 23,000 people!) have been married in New York State since last year. The same article quotes a statement by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, in which the Governor says “We are proud to, once again, light the torch for equality and justice for all.”
All these weddings have provided an economic boon for the state as well. In a statement on his website, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg states that same-sex marriages in New York City alone have generated $259 million, which translates into $16 million in revenues for the City. Of course, the figures only highlight what we have known all along – that LGBTQ New Yorkers play a vital role in the economic life of our state.
While all the pro-marriage equality activity was building to a frenzy in the spring of last year, Carl Siciliano, founder and Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post titled “Governor: Don’t Turn Your Back on Homeless Gay Youth.” In this article, Mr. Siciliano recounts the cutting of state funding for Runaway and Homeless Youth Services from $6.8 million in 2007 to $2.35 million in 2011, and asks how the Governor can “claim to support our families as he pushes for marriage equality, yet at the same time be so insensitive to the safety and welfare of our teens who have been forced into homelessness after being brutally rejected by their families?”
Happy Anniversary! One year later, I would love to report that conditions for our homeless youth have improved dramatically. But I can’t. For 2012, State funding increased less than a quarter of a million dollars; an improvement, to be sure, but completely inadequate in terms of reversing prior year cuts and in terms of the awful number of youth without even a safe place to sleep at night. Mayor Bloomberg actually cut City funding by $7 million; at the last minute, the City Council led my Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Council Members such as Lew Fidler, found the means to restore these funds and prevent an absolute disaster for the homeless youth of New York City.
So, my question to Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg is, when does the LGBTQ community benefit from the economic benefit we bring to New York? When do our youth get their fair share? And to the LGBTQ and ally communities, I ask, when are we going to demand better for our children, for our next generation?
Lighting “the torch for equality and justice for all,” Governor? Really?