07/04/13 8:00am
07/04/2013 8:00 AM

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | The American flag that hangs in the Times/Review office in Mattituck.

As the country celebrates Independence Day, we should recall those important phrases near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men” — and that should read “people” — “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We try to, and do, live up to those lofty sentiments, but not always. The belief in those self-evident truths makes this country great, but we’re not perfect and neither is our nation. Ever since a small group of brave men put their names, and in no small measure their lives, on the line in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July, 1776, we have endorsed by action or silence many legal roadblocks raised to deny or repress the fundamental rights of huge swaths of Americans — women, African-Americans, the developmentally disabled, gays and lesbians.

So it’s quite fitting that the landmark Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional a key component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states — comes so close to the July Fourth holiday.

The court’s decision marks another chapter in the USA’s 337-year quest toward fulfilling the bold statement that all of us are created, and continue to be, equal.

None of this country’s greatest achievements have come easily.

The Founding Fathers were just the first of many brave men and women who’ve taken a stand against such oppression. They were followed by abolitionists like Sojourner Truth, who was born into slavery in New York and later gave hope to so many as a preacher. Newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison came under constant attack for his published opinions against slavery. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for women’s rights long before the term “feminism” arose.

Two notable names in the gay rights movement include Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold public office in the U.S., who was later assassinated; and Larry Kramer, founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, now the largest private group in the world helping people living with AIDS.

The fight for equal rights and opportunity continues in all these movements, here and elsewhere.

In this region there are groups such as the Long Island GLBT Services network, a nonprofit umbrella association of five nonprofits that work to end homophobia on Long Island. The association, which includes the East End Gay Organization, not only advocates for civil rights and equality, but strives to provide “a home and safe space for the GLBT community.”

The Long Island GLBT Services is making major progress on the East End as it prepares this month to open the region’s first center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender East Enders — with a focus on youth — in Sag Harbor.

Civil rights and federal benefits are important, but confidence, personal security and societal acceptance are key if the promise to uphold the right to pursue happiness for all Americans is to be fulfilled. For the most part, this all starts with us, far away from D.C., in our schools, parks and businesses, where all people should be not just tolerated, but accepted and embraced.

06/26/13 4:00pm
06/26/2013 4:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm officiated at the first gay marriage on the North Fork outside Riverhead Town Hall on July 28, 2011. There, Theresa Claudio (left) and Nancy Zaharick of Mastic were wed.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled to extend federal benefits to married gay couples Wednesday in what same-sex marriage supporters have called a ”historic victory” for gay rights.

The 5-4 decision invalidated a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented same-sex couples from getting numerous health, retirement and tax benefits that were available to heterosexual couples.

The court also dismissed a case involving California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. That decision leaves in place a lower court’s ruling that will invalidate that voter-approved mandate, making same-sex unions legal in California again.

The court’s rulings were hailed by elected leaders as an important step toward equal rights for citizens of all sexual orientations.

“The Supreme Court has confirmed that equal protection under the law for all Americans means having the ability to marry the person you love,” said Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). “This decision is also a victory for the families who will now be able to access the benefits and rights accorded to married partners by the federal government if they are legally married in a state.”

Mr. Bishop, whose daughter is in a same-sex marriage, has long been an opponent of the legislation and is a member of the House LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community) Caucus.

New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also praised the decision as a “victory for the quintessentially American principle of equal justice under the law.”

For Cutchogue residents Alan Santos and Michael Buckley, who became the first legally married gay couple in Southold Town in 2011, the decision was an “encouraging” step.

Mr. Buckley said news of the decision cut into the television show he was watching Wednesday morning.

“It felt different to be married [in 2011],” he said in an interview. “Now that we have federal recognition, it feels even more different … I think it’s a great day.”

Mr. Buckley said he and Mr. Santos, who are considering retiring and moving to the South, will feel more comfortable knowing that they have federal benefits as they get older.

Mr. Buckley said there is still a long way to go; the couple said some of the states to which they would considering moving still won’t recognize their marriage as legitimate.

But the Supreme Court’s decision will open up the path for more discussion and more cases on this issue, he said.

“I’m shocked and proud that this happened during my lifetime,” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com

07/27/12 9:00am
07/27/2012 9:00 AM

The typical gay married person on the North Fork is a 57-year-old woman.

That’s based on marriage license applications filed by same-sex couples in Riverhead and Southold towns in the first year since the marriage equality bill took effect in New York State.

A total of 49 same-sex couples — 30 female and 19 male — have applied for marriage licenses on the North Fork since July 25, 2011, the first day they could do so here.

Seventy-four of the gay men and women obtaining wedding licenses on the North Fork were over 50 and 24 were 49 years old or younger. The youngest applicant was 29 and the oldest was 80.

“So many people waited their whole lives for this,” said David Kilmnick, CEO of Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services Network. “They are finally able to share their love and have it recognized.”

Mr. Kilmnick, who is gay, said he believes the abundance of older gay couples getting married on the North Fork has more to do with the age of the general population here than it does with anything else.

But the number of same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses here has dwindled in recent months.

Thirty-seven gay and lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses on the North Fork in the first 100 days after the marriage equality bill became law. Only 12 more have done so since.

Mr. Kilmnick said he believes the downward trend after the initial jolt is a result of gay couples’ deciding to plan big weddings, as opposed to rushing to the altar.

“We’ll see a lot more in the coming years because many couples are planning their weddings now,” said Mr. Kilmnick, who is currently planning a September wedding with his partner of 11 years. “The initial push was from people who had talked about getting married their whole lives.”

A total of 10,000 same sex couples have married in New York State, according to Empire State Pride Agenda.

Mr. Kilmnick said he believes the momentum gained from other states’ passing gay marriage laws, as well as President Barack Obama’s announcing his support for same-sex marriage, will help to overturn the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.

“It’s real special to look back a year ago and see how far we’ve come,” Mr. Kilmnick said. “We have a lot more allies on our side, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm officiated at the first gay marriage ceremony on the lawn at Town Hall July 28 of Theresa Claudio (left) and Nancy Zaharick of Mastic. Their toy poodle Bandit was the ring boy.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Cutchogue residents Alan Santos, right, and Michael Buckley were the first gay couple to apply for a marriage license in Southold Town.