NOAH ADAMS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.
New York's Governor David Paterson is walking a political tightrope. Paterson, on the job for little more than two months, says his state must recognize gay marriages performed where they are legal, such as California, Massachusetts or Canada. This even though New York State itself has not legalized same sex marriage.
Paterson issued a sweeping order to all state agencies to review their policies and ensure they allow equal rights to married gay couples. Paterson used the executive order after former Governor Eliot Spitzer did not succeed through the legislative route. Last year Spitzer introduced a bill that would legalize gay marriage. New York's Republican-controlled Senate has yet to call it up for a vote.
And for more, I'm joined by Governor David Paterson. Welcome, sir.
Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): Good afternoon. How are you?
ADAMS: I'm fine. Tell us, Governor Paterson, what difference this would make to couples - gay couples who live in New York State? What would it allow them to do, and why now?
Gov. PATERSON: Well, Noah, New York has had a long tradition of recognizing marriages that have been executed out of state or witnessed outside the country in a government that permitted it. All we are doing today is making sure that we extend that same right, which is a constitutional federal right, to those individuals who have out of state marriage licenses who are coming to New York.
Marriage equality is an issue that is still being debated in New York. But on the issue of whether or not we would accept the marriages from out of state, I did not see it in conflict with any court decisions, all of which have been that we have to respect those rights.
ADAMS: Now, do you expect to see a lot of people, let's say, going to California? Canada would be a possibility. Do you think it'll happen?
Gov. PATERSON: Well, Noah, I think that's certainly a possibility, but we are not trying to change the law in New York other than through the legislative process. We're just trying to respect the laws of other states and other governments as we always have.
ADAMS: Governor, you were in the State Senate for two decades there, in Albany. In that time, what would you have thought if a governor - let's say it was a Republican governor - had issued an order like this, a sweeping order on a topic that you didn't agree with?
Gov. PATERSON: I would have thought that the order should be measured by its compliance with the law rather than whether or not I agreed with the law or didn't. For instance, we had a death penalty statute and the governor of our state a few years ago called for the death penalty in a case where an individual went into a Wendy's and shot seven employees, killing, I believe, almost all of them.
At that time, when the governor felt that the individual convicted should receive the death penalty, I didn't disagree with him, even though I have never been for the death penalty. And the reason is because that was the highest count that our law permitted at that time, and almost everyone in New York was so horrified by this shooting of these teenagers in this Wendy's, felt that the individual should receive the highest punishment under the law.
It didn't mean that you were for the death penalty. It just meant that you understood the law of the state as it existed, and that's all I'm asking people to understand right now.
ADAMS: Well, we'll step over to the other side of the aisle for just a minute. Does the legislature have any recourse? Can you argue it that way to block this order?
Gov. PATERSON: Well, in many states around the union, they have passed defensive of marriage acts, which would not allow a governor to take that action at this point. And if this legislature passed it, I would be bound by it. But we don't have that type of restriction in New York. Therefore the action I took is following the same rights that we've extended in the case of other marriages that have been conducted in other parts of the country and got respected in our state. There are over 1,100 types of regulations and remedies that are not available to domestic partners, but are to people who are married. Certainly at a time in our society when only 50 percent of the marriages that are conducted are actually working, I thought this might actually increase the success rate a little bit.
ADAMS: A year from now, would you be making a move to make gay marriage legal in New York State?
Gov. PATERSON: Well, I've already advocated for it. That is my belief, that marriage equality should be extended to same sex couples. However, it doesn't have anything to do with the decision we made a few weeks ago when we asked our agencies to be in compliance with what we feel is our own law. And for that reason, regardless of a person's individual beliefs, I think that they should respect that the executive branch of this state is trying to follow the law and not to discriminate against people who choose to be married in other states and then come back to New York, whether they are common law marriages or same sex marriages.
ADAMS: David Paterson, governor of the State of New York. Thank you, governor.
Gov. PATERSON: Thank you, Noah.