Gay marriage is often framed as a civil rights issue (by supporters) or as the redefinition of a traditional institution (by opponents). More than either of these, it's a freedom issue.
We are not advising anyone how they should feel about homosexuality, but we are saying the state has no business standing in the way of it - or, by extension, same-sex marriage.
Unless something clearly endangers the public welfare, the government should leave it alone, and we see no public peril in letting same-sex couples tie the knot, make their (supposedly) lifetime commitments public and gain the civil benefits that come with that.
Therefore, New York's Senate should pass a bill, already approved by the Assembly and promoted by the governor, that would let same-sex couples get marriage licenses, something they can already do in five other states and the District of Columbia.
That wouldn't mean a church or justice of the peace has to perform a gay wedding. No clergy member or judge has to perform any marriage ceremony he or she doesn't want to. It would simply recognize a gay couple's bond as a legal contract.
Only a few senators need to switch their previous "no" votes, including our senator, Betty Little. She told the Enterprise she won't change, but she also said she favors civil unions for gay couples. Well, would a New York civil union entail all the rights of marriage? Fewer? And if fewer, why? Instead of a simple change to the marriage license law, the state would have to create an entirely new type of union, define what rights it would grant, and then go through unthinkable numbers of laws and government contracts to change every reference to "marriage," adjusting for any differences in the rights lawmakers might have given civil unions compared to marriages.
This would be a fantastically complicated way to avoid calling something what it is. Also, it would create a "separate but equal" situation that is bound to be challenged in the long run.
The hangup seems to be on the word "marriage," but from a practical perspective, marriage is what's already happening. Gay couples already live together in domestic tranquility here and all over the state, with no crisis resulting. Many of these couples have made personal lifetime commitments to each other, but public recognition of those bonds helps hold them tight during times of emotional strain.
Arguments we've heard against gay marriage are essentially ways to slow down public recognition of homosexuality itself, which is both real and legal. If one thinks it is disgusting, dysfunctional or deviant, that is irrelevant to this matter. That battle is over. This isn't Iran or Saudi Arabia, where the penalty for it is death. In the U.S., sexual relations in private between consenting adults are none of the state's business, and government bodies treat gay people the same as they treat anyone else - except, currently, regarding marriage.
This issue won't go away, and at the risk of using a cliche, our current gay marriage ban will soon be on the wrong side of history.
"Five, 10 years from now, we will look back and we will say, 'We can't believe there are states that said we can't allow two people to marry just because they're gay,'" Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in Lake Placid May 19. We agree.
The New York Legislature should lift this unnecessary limit on personal liberty and move on. It's a free country, at least in theory.