New York state is a national leader in the fight for LGBTQ rights. We were the first big state to pass marriage equality. We enacted the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act — or GENDA — to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming people from discrimination. We launched a bold campaign to end the AIDS epidemic. And every day we are fighting the Trump administration’s all-out war against trans and gender-nonconforming people.
But New York state has discriminatory — and quite frankly repugnant — laws on our books that stifle the liberties of the LGBTQ community. We need to fix them now.
First, New York is one of only three states where gestational surrogacy is illegal. You read that right. In fact, many people are shocked to learn this — as Andy himself was when he first started looking into surrogacy. It’s nonsensical that an act of pure selflessness is illegal in New York in 2019.
If a gay couple or a couple struggling with fertility wants to start a family with the help of a gestational surrogate, they must travel out of state and deal with another state’s laws and oftentimes lesser health care systems. This comes at a huge cost to those pursuing surrogacy — legally, financially, and otherwise — and is a barrier to family building that does not represent our values.
These were some of the challenges Andy faced when he decided to have a child through surrogacy, which was the only option available for him to have a biological child of his own.
New York sent a strong message about the importance of families — and how they come in many colors, shapes and sizes — when we passed marriage equality during Gov. Cuomo’s first year in office. But by banning gestational surrogacy, we are saying to the LGBTQ community and those who struggle with infertility: You can’t have a child in your own state.
In 2019, no one should have to forfeit the joy of raising a child — not in an era when modern medicine is performing new miracles every day, and when we have reached a wide consensus that the only prerequisite to forming a family is love.
Earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo signed into law the Reproductive Health Act, which says that women should have control of their own bodies. The surrogacy bill ensures that a gestational surrogate — the woman who wants to bring a child into this world for others — has the strongest protections in the country. It ensures they have access to legal counsel, adequate health care, and other critical protections.
Practiced safely, ethically, and legally, surrogacy is about hope. It’s about the freedom to form a family and experience the joy of parenthood. It’s about ensuring that any of us can meet one of the most basic human needs: to pass on our wisdom, history, and culture to a new generation.
Second, and even more shocking, in New York state a person accused of a violent crime against an LGBTQ individual can use their own anti-gay or anti-trans bias as a legitimate legal defense.
It’s called the “gay and trans panic” defense. It’s repugnant, and it must be banned.
There have been too many horror stories of gay, trans, and gender-nonconforming people killed or attacked simply because of who they are. Under the “gay and trans panic” defense, their assailants are able to appeal for lesser sentences in the courtroom by putting the blame on a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
The most infamous example was the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student in Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men in 1998. The men attempted to use the “gay panic” defense to excuse their actions.
This defense is a noxious legal maneuver that has no place in our justice system. It is offensive to LGBTQ people everywhere and sends a dangerous message that hate crimes against gay and trans New Yorkers — or anyone for that matter — are somehow OK. They’re not.
The American Bar Association unanimously approved a resolution in 2013 calling on states to eliminate the gay and trans panic defenses through legislation. That was six years ago. New York has waited too long; the LGBTQ community has waited too long.
Three states have already prohibited the gay and trans panic defense. New York must be next. We know that once New York acts, other states will follow our lead.
The legislature has seven days left in this year’s session. They must not leave Albany without righting these two wrongs. Legalizing gestational surrogacy and banning the “gay and trans panic” defense would send a clear message to the LGBTQ community and to all New Yorkers that we won’t settle for anything less than full equality under the law.