Gov. David A. Paterson plans to introduce legislation on Thursday to make marriage between same-sex couples legal in New York, advancing his push for greater rights for gay men and lesbians, at a time when other states have done so.
Mr. Paterson’s plans represent the most public effort yet by the governor, who has been a consistent supporter of gay rights, to position himself and New York at the crest of a broadening national movement.
The bill may have some difficulty passing the Senate (although it is expected to clear the Assembly easily), but Governor Paterson is hoping that the recent momentum in favor of marriage equality will sway a few more votes in Albany. If the bill passes, New York will become the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
There are several reasons why marriage equality is so important to humanists. First, it is an issue of separation of church and state. To this day, I have never heard an argument against marriage equality that wasn’t ultimately rooted in religion. Usually the case rests on certain selectively read passages from the Bible. But we know that public policy decisions have to rest on secular grounds. We can’t prohibit something simply because the Bible prohibits it. Religious tradition isn’t adequate when we’re discussing today why same-sex marriage should continue to be banned.
More importantly, at the core of humanism lies the tenet that ethical values must be based in the real world and can change over time. Humanism and Its Aspirations states it this way:
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
There simply isn’t any room in this worldview for arbitrarily denying equal rights to one population based on a 2,000-year-old text that is only relevant to one portion of society. To tell one couple that their love and relationship simply doesn’t count as much as another couple’s does not respect their inherent worth and dignity. Humanists want to see concrete reasons for laws, reasons that go well beyond “it’s tradition” or “the Bible says so.”
If New York passes this bill, the pressure will increase in other states to legalize marriage equality. When you see lawmakers debate this issue and decide to favor human needs today, rather than prescribed behavior from thousands of years ago, you are seeing humanist values in action.