History tells us the institution of marriage probably pre-dates record keeping. But recent history is where the definition of the union has faced its greatest scrutiny. As we look back at 10 years of storytelling, we focus on the issue that’s had more than a handful of headlines in that span. Innae Park has more.
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STATEWIDE -- For decades, New Yorkers have battled over the definition of the word 'marriage,’ and who should be able to be in one.
"Gay families or straight families, that they have the same rights and protections in our society," said Reverend Diane Marquit, a Methodist priest in favor of same-sex marriage.
National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown said, "It's a lie to say that two men or two women are in the same position as a man and woman united together in marriage."
However, more than eight years ago, one village and its mayor made it clear they didn't believe that.
In 2004, the world watched as New Paltz Mayor Jason West unified the couples unable to be legally married in their own state.
Jay Blotcher and Brook Garrett were the fourth of 24 same sex couples to be solemnized in those ceremonies. "We thought, 'What explains a marriage and love more than a kiss? So we went for it, and we kissed,'" said Blotcher.
Blotcher and Garrett had already attempted to be legally recognized by becoming domestic partners in New York City and then joining in a civil union in Vermont, but found both to be lacking in rights granted by government. The couple was told this ceremony too would not provide any benefits. "This might not have longevity, this might be turned down by the courts, but we wanted to take a stand," said Blotcher.
Garrett said, "You have to keep fighting the fight to get the equality that's due."
In the following days, West was charged with solemnizing a marriage without a license. The many counts were later dismissed, but his actions made him a rousing figure for the marriage equality movement. "When you have the real power to do something and no real consequence to you, there's absolutely no excuse not to do what you can," said West.
However, the Latham native and Shaker graduate steps away from the spotlight. West said, "Everyone starts off, 'Oh, you started this, you started this.' No, I middled it. There was a lot of people before me and after me that did a lot more than I ever could."
And there were more.
Advocates for gay marriage lobbied hard, and three years later, the state Assembly responded, passing a bill in support four separate times.
In 2009, the legislation finally made it to the senate floor, but to no avail. The bill lost 38-24.
Then, on June 24, 2011, a vote many thought would never come. Following talks behind closed doors with Governor Cuomo, four Republican state senators crossed party lines, passing the Marriage Equality bill 33-29.
On the floor, Senator Steve Saland said, “I have to define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality.”
Yet there was no waving of a white flag. Rallies railing against the new law were held across the state.
"This is wrong. This undermines religious liberty, it undermines freedom,” said Brown.
Greg Beijian, a Troy resident, said, “Our New York State government put this in and you and I didn't get the opportunity to say what we feel.”
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms also filed a lawsuit, alleging the Senate's meetings that led to the bill's passage violated Open Meetings laws. This summer, it was dismissed by a state appeals court.
Nonetheless, executive director Reverend Jason McGuire says their fight is far from over, with many areas to target. One bull’s-eye: the senators who voted 'aye.'
“We've been working hard to unseat those senators,” said McGuire. “We believe they're rogue Republicans that have left party principles.”
Of the four, three were challenged by angered Conservatives in their re-election bids. The capital region's Roy McDonald lost his Republican primary and opted not to campaign on his third party line.
And while marriage equality is the name of the law, whether equality will be given by all remains to be seen.
McGuire said, “Government did not create marriage; thereby they don't have the authority to redefine it.”
“Things become literally unthinkable, and this is going to be one of them,” said West of the legalization of same sex marriage. “It's just too much of a tsunami. It's too much... The future is coming too hard on the heels of the past, and the past is losing.”