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PMUC in the News: This article was published July 21, 2007 in The Batavia Daily News

The Daily News. July 21, 2007

Group pushes Hawley, colleagues on gay marriage

By Tom Rivers

ALBION — A group of about 40 young adults are crisscrossing New York state, visiting state legislators and their staffs, pressing for New York to become just the second state to sanction gay marriages.

The group has separated into four groups and is visiting state legislators who are fans and foes of gay marriage. On Friday, eight members of Soulforce, a Lynchburg , Va. , based organization pushing gay rights, met with Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, in his Albion district office. Hawley on June 19 voted against the legislation for gay marriage. He said he believed his vote represented the majority of sentiment about the issue in his rural district.

The legislation passed the Assembly by an 85-61 vote. Only four of the 42 Republicans voted for the bill, including Teresa Sayward of Elizabethown, who has a gay son.

"I vote for my constituency," Hawley said Friday after the meeting with Soulforce. "I don't vote my personal feelings."

Soulforce met as a group in Albany about a week ago before breaking into groups to visit the western, northern, southern and central regions of the state in the "Right to Marry Campaign."

While Soulforce leaders said they were disappointed with Hawley's responses, the group credited him for having a face-to-face meeting. Most other legislators are having staff people handle the discussion, Soulforce leaders said.

"It's laudable they're coming to people on both sides of the aisle, trying to get all different viewpoints," Hawley said. "If it's possible on my schedule, I'll meet with anyone, anywhere."

While other states have approved civil unions or domestic partnerships, allowing partners to receive health benefits and have privacy privileges at hospitals, only Massachusetts has made the leap to declaring gay "marriages" legal. Soulforce is adamant that the term "marriage" be applied to New York 's law, rather than civil unions or another term.

"If you name it anything besides marriage there is an implied inferiority," said Jarrett Lucas, Soulforce's young adult director of outreach.

Lucas, 21, of Philadelphia , said Soulforce sees New York as a key state, "setting a unique precedent for other states," to take up gay marriage rights.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer favors extending marriage rights to gay couples, and introduced a law April 27 to do so. With the Assembly backing the bill, the Republican-controlled State Senate would now need to approve the legislation for New York to have legal gay marriages. Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno has been steadfast in opposition to the legislation.

The Assembly's vote June 19 was hailed by Empire State Pride Agenda as a critical step if New York allows gay marriage.

"The Assembly did the right thing," Alan Van Cappelle, Pride Agenda executive director, said June 19 on the group's Web site. "Now it's time for the Senate to do the right thing."

Van Cappelle said the legislation is crucial for gay couples to get 1,324 rights that are bestowed on other married couples, including the right to visit a loved one in the hospital.

Victor Limjoco, 26, of Brooklyn took two weeks off from his job as a journalist for science publications to help rally legislative support for the cause with Soulforce.

"Quite simply, I want to get married someday," he said while walking on Albion 's Main Street . "It's a very basic thing."

The group is urging gay, bisexual and transgendered people to send Bruno a pair of their old shoes "so he knows what it's like to walk into our shoes without marriage equality," Lucas said.

Not all of the Soulforce members are gay. Alexandra Lundy, 20, of Long Island has a best friend with two mothers, who are lesbians. Both of those women are fourth-grade teachers and active in community causes, Lundy said.

"They are beautiful, beautiful people who do so much for our community," Lundy said.

Before meeting with Hawley, Soulforce met with four members of the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion , which has officially stated its support of gay marriage rights.

The church sees the current laws forbidding gay marriage as discriminatory, said David Markham, a member of the church and executive director of the Genesee-Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

As a counselor for 38 years, Markham said he has seen "how discrimination in our society creates great distress for individuals and their families." Often teen-agers and young adults who are gay commit suicide or develop drug problems because they feel ostracized by society, Markham said.

His agency, GCASA, has a policy of extending health insurance benefits to partners of employees who have been living together for at least six months.

Markham said the state legislation shouldn't compel churches to bless gay marriages. That should be up to each church. But he believes the state should recognize gay couples who want to marry.

Pullman church leaders will try to talk with other local church bodies, presenting gay marriage as a "social justice" issue, Markham said. He also will stress churches can still keep their religious ceremonies for a husband and wife only.

Lucas said he believes people who oppose gay rights are too preoccupied with sexuality.

"This is not about bodies," he said about gay marriage. "It's about hearts and minds."

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