New York Lawmakers Approve Gay Rights Bill

After Decades-Long Struggle, Antidiscrimination Law is Expanded to Include Sexual Orientation

For more than 30 years, the New York State Senate had failed to act on legislation that would prohibit discrimination against gay men and lesbians in employment, housing and public accommodations. Today, the state Senate broke with its past and not only voted on, but approved, by a 34-26 vote, legislation to expand the State’s civil rights law in an attempt to help bring an end to discriminatory treatment of gays.

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), marks a major step forward by outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace, housing and credit. Although the New York State Assembly has repeatedly passed the bill, it had never before been allowed to come to the Senate floor for a vote.

“Today’s vote by the New York State Senate was long overdue,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas, “This is a major step toward ensuring full equality and ending unfair and unjust treatment of New York’s gay citizens.”

PFAW, which has more than 63, 000 members and activists in New York alone, has been a longtime supporter of SONDA. In its Dec. 9 letter to Majority Leader Bruno, PFAW said that for too long state law had treated gays as second-class citizens.

“New York, as a worldwide center of learning and commerce, should be a leader in the area of human rights,” PFAW’s letter stated. “After 30 years, it is not only time for this bill to receive a vote on the Senate floor, but time for it to be enacted.”

Some SONDA supporters in the state Senate noted that the bill would not include protection for transgendered people and pledged to make an effort to expand its protections in the near future.

“This is a great day for New Yorkers,” said Barbara Handman, director of PFAW’s New York office. “From here we will continue to move forward, and will continue to call on lawmakers to expand human rights protections for all the people of this state.”

SONDA now will go directly to Gov. Pataki, who has said he will sign the legislation.

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