FORUM AIRS PERSPECTIVES ON GAYS MARRYING - The Buffalo News

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FORUM AIRS PERSPECTIVES ON GAYS MARRYING

David Cantaffa and Anthony Laulette went to City Hall earlier this month in search of a marriage license.

Denied there, the two men say they have received plenty of support elsewhere in their bid to be married.

Laulette described the gay couple's effort as "one way to take part in this movement" toward the legalization of same-sex marriages.

Their advocacy continued Sunday, as they took center stage at a "town meeting" on marriage equality in the Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired.

Cantaffa and Laulette were one of several gay and lesbian couples to share their experiences and perspectives on the possibility of same-sex marriage.

The two-hour session also included presentations by Ross Levi, director of public policy and government affairs at Empire State Pride Agenda; Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo; and the Rev. Joel Miller, a Unitarian Universalist minister who performs same-sex marriages.

Pride Center of Western New York, a gay rights organization, sponsored the session, which drew about 80 people.

Levi discussed some of the more than 1,800 legal protections, benefits and responsibilities associated with the legal right to marry.

At the federal level, those include such areas as Social Security spousal and survivor benefits, the marriage tax bonus, pension rights and veterans benefits -- which are all made available to people only through marriage. State rights granted through marriage include hospital visitation, the right to make burial decisions for a deceased spouse and inheritance rights, he said.

Levi pointed out that the nature of marriage has changed over time. In the United States, arranged marriages, dowries and polygamy are no longer considered acceptable, and bans against interracial marriage aren't legal.

Less than 40 years ago, people who favored such bans argued that "society would crumble" if people of different races were allowed to marry.

"Those arguments may sound familiar," saidLevi.

Hoyt described the efforts of advocates for same-sex marriage as "the next phase of the civil rights movement," and he blasted President Bush for proposing a constitutional amendment that would take rights away from people, rather than add them.

"Amending the Constitution, shame on George Bush. That is an outrage," said Hoyt.

The assemblyman also predicted that a New York State "Defense of Marriage" bill would never receive enough support in the Legislature to become law.

The audience was overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex marriages, except for Larry Blakely of Cheektowaga, who sat in the back of the room clutching a Bible as he listened to the presentations.

Blakely did not speak during a question-and-answer session. Afterwards, he said in an interview that the arguments put forth in the town meeting repeated the same mistakes written about in the Bible thousands of years ago. He described same-sex marriage as "against" what the creator had in mind when he created human beings.

"When we go against God's law, especially the way he set up marriage, his judgment comes shortly after that," said Blakely. "The last straw is that we start messing around with the way he created family."

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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