Thank you, District Attorney Walsh, for this honor and your very generous tribute. I’m quite moved and a little bit verklempt.
I’m struck that a gathering like ours today couldn’t happen 20 years ago. It couldn’t happen 15 years ago when I worked on the Court of Appeals Hernandez v Robles case, which held, as of then, that the New York Constitution didn’t grant a right to same-sex marriage. My hero, Chief Judge Judith Kaye, wrote in dissent that New York soon would find itself on the wrong side of history – and she was right. Soon after, the New York Senate borrowed me to serve as Special Counsel to the Majority – and in 2011, New York made marriage equality the law of this land.
Judge Kaye was right about two more things that shape me – and all of us – in serving our system of justice. One was what she called dual constitutionalism: alongside the U.S. Constitution, our New York Constitution and laws also protect rights and calibrate power. We can take pride that New York goes further than the federal government on equal justice, right to counsel, free speech, privacy, bodily autonomy and more. This key role of the states rose to prominence during the 1990s and early 2000s, and it’s happening again today. What we do here and now – as New Yorkers, for New Yorkers – matters a lot.
Judge Kaye’s third lesson was that our courts are the emergency rooms of society. DA Walsh and Derek Tarson from the Rockland County Legal Aid Society both see it every day. We all do. This era of vitriol and strife flows into the courts, and it’s on us to rise to the occasion, to be first responders. If ever we need a reminder of how democracy depends on the rule of law — and on public respect for a Judiciary that earns it every day – it’s on the news right now.
So to me it’s especially meaningful that we honor Pride Month today, in ways all but unthinkable inside government 20 years ago, facing public cynicism unlike anything in my lifetime, when the rule of law itself hangs in the balance.
It’s why I’m so passionate and grateful to serve here and now, with all of you, in the trenches, doing our very best to reclaim our shared civic space from cynicism, and show what the heart of New York is all about.
And it’s why I’m so grateful to DA Walsh for uplifting LGBT community members and allies – because we can’t do any of this right except all together.
That’s part of why Pride Month is so important every June – and Black History Month in February, and Women’s History Month in March, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in April. None of us stops being us after a particular month ends. At our best, we dedicate each month to raising up our communities, with pride and value, and with each one we renew our commitment to a democracy under law that thrives for everyone, with everyone, always.
To me, this award means all that and more. Thank you all so very much.