In the wake of Gov. David Patterson’s Oct. 22 announcement that he wanted to legalize same-sex marriage in New York state, student organizations have mobilized to educate the campus community about gay rights.
The New York Senate delayed a vote on the bill Tuesday. If it passes, New York will be the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. Created Equal and prism — two student organizations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — joined together to show support of the bill.
Junior Catherine Kirchhoff, president of prism, said when she first heard about Patterson’s announcement, she was excited but wished she could share her excitement with people outside of the LGBT community. She said she thinks many students already believed same-sex marriage was legal in New York.
“I feel like everyone is sucked in the Ithaca bubble where they see boys holding hands all the time, and they just assume marriage is legal,” Kirchhoff said. “Once you venture out of Ithaca you see the reality, and it’s not legal.”
According to Lis Maurer, program director of the LGBT Center at the college, heterosexual couples married in New York have around 700 rights at the state level and 1,138 rights at the federal level. Maurer said same-sex couples in states that do not allow gay marriage do not have any of these rights, including access to social security after a spouse’s death and the ability to file joint home and auto insurance policies.
Maurer said putting the rights of a minority group up to a vote does not seem ethical.
“I can’t think of a time when we take a nondominant group and then let the majority vote [to see] if they can have that particular right,” she said. “That’s not really the way things go here.”
To help students understand they can influence legislation, on Nov. 3 Created Equal and prism conducted a poll asking students if they supported the same-sex marriage bill. Seventy out of 71 students said they are in favor of same-sex marriage in New York state. Sophomore Devon Ritz, co-president of Created Equal, said it’s important for students to be informed of gay rights.
“We don’t want apathy on campus,” Ritz said. “A lot of people don’t realize that their vote is very important. Our goal is to tell people things that they don’t realize, like civil unions are not equal to marriage. These are human rights that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
Both Ritz and Kirchhoff said an important goal of both Created Equal and prism is to raise awareness of the lack of rights that the LGBT community has. They want students to know that they have the power to vote and change the legislation.
Kirchhoff said those that are not affected directly by the gay marriage bill should take a look around and realize the rights they take for granted every day are not rights that everyone shares with them.
“People take their privileges for granted,” Kirchhoff said. “The majority of people just think ‘Yeah, I’m going to get married eventually.’ But there are people around them who aren’t [thinking that] and can’t. People have been together for 40 years. You pass them on the streets, and they don’t have the same rights as you do.”
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