On June 17, the New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Hernandez v. Robles decision at a panel discussion on the Evolution of Marriage Equality in New York State. Ten years ago, long time supporter of AABANY Justice Doris Ling-Cohan (Appellate Term, First Department) bravely decided in favor of marriage equality and put the controversial issue on its unique journey to later becoming the New York Marriage Equality Act in 2011. Justice Ling-Cohan sat on the panel with LGBTQ advocates Cathy Marino-Thomas, President of Marriage Equality USA, and Alphonso B. David, Esq., Counsel to Governor Andrew Cuomo. The panel was moderated by civil rights attorney and LGBTQ advocate Yetta Kurland. The evening included a networking cocktail hour and discussion by the distinguished panelists. Audience members were invited to submit questions to the panelists.

The panelists shared their perspectives on the evolution of marriage equality since the Hernandez decision ten years ago. They all touched on the path towards achieving marriage equality in New York, from a subject of public outcry to increasing acceptance and approval. Mr.  David stated that in 2005, the use of the words “gay marriage” were unspeakable and unacceptable. As the litigator in the Hernandez decision, Mr. David, along with Lamda Legal Defense and Educational Fund, singlehandedly brought a claim of a violation of the United States Constitution’s equal protection clause. Ms. Marino-Thomas praised these litigation efforts of Mr. David and his team as “making gold out of straw.” Despite these efforts, the panelists all disclosed the reality of an imminent appeal to undo the decision. Hernandez was ultimately reversed by the Court of Appeals. Despite the reversal, the uphill battle for acceptance and fight to move marriage equality as a key political issue continued to build momentum. Public approval ratings of marriage equality began to increase. The passage of the 2011 Marriage Equality Act in New York was the ultimate “sea change” for the panelists. This historic event exhibited the courage of the legislators to protect the disenfranchised.

By the end of the hour, the distinguished panelists provided words of wisdom to the audience members about the future of marriage equality. Justice Ling-Cohan stressed the importance of coalition building with the LGBTQ community and communities of color. Ms. Marino-Thomas noted that the efforts within the last ten years to make marriage equality as a key political issue is an indication that the “little guy” can win. Mr. David stressed that the success of the marriage equality movement thus far is not the end. All panelists agreed that other underprivileged communities should “use the model and change the argument.”

AABANY and its LGBTQ Committee extend their support to NYCLA for hosting this important and timely panel discussion during Pride Month about a significant step towards civil rights and equality for all New Yorkers.