It was a time of celebration for the The LOFT LGBT Community Services Center for the Lower Hudson Valley in White Plains Friday.
The group a Marriage Anniversary Party to commemorate June 24, 2011 when state officials passed a law that allowed New York to became the 6th state —and the union's largest— to legalize same-sex marriages. The law went into effect on July 24, 2011.
The party served as a reminder of all the struggles that the LGBT community has faced for marriage rights in New York state. Still, LOFT members acknowledged that they still have more battles ahead in their fight for equal rights.
“We’ve got four states that we are working on for the elections coming up on November,” said RoseAnn Hermann, a member of LOFT’s board of directors and the mother of a gay son and daughter. “California, Washington, Maine and Maryland and we’re also working to repeal DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage ACT. We’re working very hard on all fronts—We’ll be doing phone banks so when the time comes, we’ll be able to call up people in those four states to make sure that they get out and vote the correct way.”
During the celebration, a barbeque on followed by a showing of two documentaries: “March On,” about LGBT families who traveled to Washington D.C. in October of 2009 to protest for equal rights, and “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement” about a lesbian couple who finally tie-the-knot.
Michael Sabatino, who became the first openly gay person to be elected to the Yonkers city council last year, and his husband, Robert Voorheis, are one of the couples featured in “March On.”
Voorheis said the fight to gain marriage rights in this state was the culmination of years of hard work and is a major stepping stone for the rest of the country.
“My husband and I have fought for marriage rights for 14 years,” Voorheis said. “The win we received last year was so monumental and when we started, everyone said you can’t go to an elected official and ask them what they felt about marriage and we said ‘well watch, we’re going to.’ So here it’s 14, going on 15, years later and we’ve won.”
Still, Voorheis said there are still other issues, such as the rights of transgendered individuals, that need to be addressed in New York.
Said Sabatino: “We get over 2,000 rights between the state and federal governments. I will tell you, most straight couples when they get married have no idea what rights get. I’ll ask them to give me five rights they get when they are married and they can’t tell us. They don’t need to know because they get them automatically. You only realize them when you’re deprived of them.”
For example, Sabatino said same-sex married couples are open to huge tax hits when a spouse dies and their assets are taxable by the surviving spouse. There is also a disparity in what can be collected from Social Security when a spouse in a same sex marriage dies.
The filing of income taxes also becomes a problem because the federal government won’t recognize joint tax filings for gay marriages. Sabatino said he and Voorheis end up paying double the amount they normally would to file their taxes because of this.
“Marriage isn’t only a right, but it’s a responsibility,” Voorheis said.
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