National Press Club

LGBT leader calls New York same-sex marriage bill "game changer"

June 28, 2011 | By Lorna Aldrich |

Rea Carey, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called the New York state legilature's passage of a same-sex marriage bill, "a major turning point in progress toward marriage equality, a game changer" at a June 28 Newsmaker.

Carey, who leads the oldest organization supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights, said the bill doubles the population eligible for same-sex marriage.

"What a difference 42 years makes," she said. In 1969, when homosexual acts were illegal, mass arrests of LGBT people at the Stonewall Inn in New York City led to six days of riots.

The last four decades have been a story of progress, but it hasn't happened overnight according to Carey, and there is more progress to be made.

"There are damaging and dangerous gaps in protection of LGBT people now," she said.

The Task Force addresses "bread and butter" issues that affect people's lives, she said. Only 14 states and the District of Columbia offer LGBT people protection against discrimination in employment and housing.

She cited signs of progress. Unions and corporations have adopted policies protecting LGBT people, which is "huge," Carey said. President Barack Obama has determined not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in courts, another positive development. The 2010 Census counted married same-sex couples so their children were not listed as living with a single parent.

"The health care reform bill will actually benefit more LGBT people than any other legislation that we are working on," she said. Hospital visitation rights have been a problem for LGBT couples.

In recent years, the number of religious congregations that have declared themselves "open and affirming" has grown from 1,000 to 4,000, Carey said.

"As we make progress, policies aren't matching up," she said.

Some areas needing attention, according to Carey, are marriage partners and immigration, insurance and marriage recognition in connection with military service.

She noted repeal movements in states that have passed same-sex marriage laws. She drew a parallel between the 53 percent support in polls for early-term abortions when Roe vs. Wade was decided and the 53 percent support for same-sex marriage in polls now. Both issues face opposition, she said.

A goal is to make support of LGBT protections widespread to counter opposition. Carey acknowledged that same-sex marriage has not been approved by referendums in any state and that Proposition 8, overturning same-sex marriage in California, passed. It is now suspended pending court action.

She explained the discrepancy between poll responses and voter behavior as the difference between "aspirational responses" to polls and actual belief. Also, she said, poll responders may not be those who actually vote.

"Every time we are getting closer and closer," she said.

Carey sees trends she finds encouraging. More young people have LGBT friends. The passage of Proposition 8 has energized support. And she observes Republicans supporting LGBT rights.