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Will Transgender New Yorkers Benefit from Marriage Equality?

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Thursday Jul 21, 2011

With all eyes squarely set upon the Empire State, the question remains whether transgender New Yorkers stand to benefit from the state's marriage equality law once it takes effect on Sunday, July 24.

Trans activists with whom EDGE spoke earlier this week lauded the passage of this historic legislation as a significant step towards full equality for all New Yorkers.

"Marriage equality will be good for transgender people," said Melissa Sklarz, director of the New York Trans Rights Organization. "It'll bring the opportunity to get married to different families. It'll make different families more visible and different options more visible."

Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, agreed. "The fact marriage is going to be for everyone means it's a victory for transgender people as well as non-trans gay, lesbian and bisexual people," she said.

Trans couples who have previously sought to tie the knot in New York have sometimes encountered problems when they tried to obtain a marriage license.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund threatened to sue the city of New York earlier this year on behalf of a trans couple who tried to obtain a marriage license in the Bronx in Dec. 2009. The couple, whom TLDEF only identified as Jane and John out of privacy concerns, alleged the City Clerk's office discriminated against them when they were asked to produce copies of their birth certificates after they had provided government-issued photo identifications.

Under a new policy that the city adopted in February, the City Clerk can no longer request any marriage license applicant provide further proof of their sex. Michael Silverman, executive director of TLDEF, stressed New York's marriage equality law will make this issue moot.

"What this bill essentially does is it takes away the question of the partner's sex-that is no longer a basis for challenging a person's marriage," he said, referring to the Bronx case and others. "That can't happen anymore in New York. The sex of the parties no longer matters."

Does Marriage Equality Strengthen GENDA's Prospects in Albany?
With marriage equality about to become a reality in the state, advocates are hopeful that activists will redouble their efforts to secure passage of a bill that would ban discrimination against trans New Yorkers.

The state Assembly has passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act four times, but the measure once again stalled in the state Senate last month. Then-Gov. David Paterson signed an executive order in Dec. 2009 that bans discrimination against trans state employees.

Park said she understands the frustration of trans people who feel efforts to secure nuptials for same-sex couples pushed GENDA to the backburner. She added, however, that passage of the marriage equality bill actually bolsters GENDA's chances in Albany.

"I am hopeful the community rallies around GENDA and I am hopeful the governor will make this a priority like he did with marriage equality," said Park, noting there is broad support among New Yorkers for non-discrimination measures. "Discrimination protections for transgender people are frankly not as controversial as same-sex marriage."

The state Senate could potentially vote on GENDA next year or in 2013, but Sklarz said the bill's fate currently rests with one man: Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos [R-Rockville Centre.]

She suggested that a dozen or so of Skelos' politically active trans constituents could potentially sway the Republican to allow GENDA to come to the Senate floor for a vote. "Transgender people don't have civil rights in Nassau County and that's his home base," said Sklarz. "Constituency is what matters in Albany."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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