Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gay Pride (and Marriage) 2011

Readers of bklynbiblio may recall my past posts on Gay Pride in 2009 and 2010. I wish I could tell you great things about my adventures this year, but I’ve been sick for 2 weeks with sinus & upper respiratory infections. (We’re talking fever, doctor visits, antibiotics, and burst blood vessels from some violent coughing...not pretty.) So, alas, even though a group of my friends were all celebrating Gay Pride this weekend with parties and dancing, I only felt well enough to join them today for an early dinner in Chelsea. From what I hear, the parade was loads of fun, certainly better than last year’s. Everyone was jubilant, clearly celebrating the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act, which the State Senate approved 33 to 29, and which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law at 11:55pm on Friday, June 24, 2011. NY is now the 6th and largest state in which gays and lesbians will be able to marry starting next month. The picture above (photo: Michael Kamber, The New York Times) shows our political leaders and supporters at the parade: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (who undoubtedly will be one of the first to marry her partner next month), and Gov. Cuomo standing with his barely-visible partner Sandra Lee (of Semi-Homemade Cooking fame), who apparently was the major drive behind Cuomo spear-heading the passage of gay marriage into law. This is truly a momentous occasion, because it demonstrates that NY is a state that grants civil rights to all of its citizens. For gays and lesbians, of course, it’s a major milestone when you consider that the gay rights movement began 42 years ago after a raid on The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. After the law was signed by Cuomo, over 1000 people flocked to The Stonewall Inn to celebrate.

In looking back on my 2009 post, I discovered I had written some interesting words that in retrospect now seem prescient. Here’s what I said: “Things take time. Gay marriage and the dismissal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ won’t happen over night, or possibly even in 2009. They are simply too controversial for some people. But they will happen, in due time. You cannot change people’s minds by snapping your fingers, especially when religion is the foundation of their beliefs. And rather than be angered by these attitudes, I believe we should reflect on them and work to bring people around through education.” I cannot help but think that in the past 2 years, a great deal of educating and soul searching has taken place, and a majority of NY politicians realized that passing the gay marriage law into effect was essential.

Readers may be surprised to discover that I actually haven’t been a full supporter of "gay marriage" per se. My issue was never whether gays and lesbians could marry, that was an obvious no brainer. My issue was with "marriage." Its very outdated concept needs to change. Organized religion has monopolized marriage to the point that most people believe marriage is first a spiritual blessing and then a legally binding contract. In fact, just the opposite is true. As far as the state is concerned, people are "married" by the laws of the state in which they reside, not by the laws of God. Think about it. You legally can marry in a courthouse without the spiritual blessing of a religious leader. But you legally cannot marry in a religious ceremony without a license pre-approved by the state.

So, in short, what I’ve argued in the past is that the state needed to take back ownership of "marriage." To me, the best way of doing this was to change the name to a "civil partnership" for everyone, and thus to deny religious leaders their assumed ability to use a religious sanctification as a substitute for the actual civil partnership that would need to take place in a government office. In other words, couples legally should have a civil partnership first, and if they wanted also to have a religious one too, they could do that on their own. Their religious leader should have no legal authority to marry them. My point is that when you remove organized religion from this redefinition of marriage as a civil partnership, there is no legal reason why a state could deny that right to all of its citizens, regardless if the couple was different or same-sex partnered. But let’s face it. To argue all this at the state government level would have been nearly impossible. Coming up with a gay marriage law was just an easier, "straighter" path to take. So of course I have supported it and I am thrilled to live in a state that has passed it into law.

In the long run though, my reasoning more or less falls in line with why the Same-Sex Marriage Act did pass in the State Senate, and why 4 Republicans who previously had voted against this bill now were in favor of it. In the end, these individuals recognized that by denying same-sex partners the right to marry, they were denying NY citizens basic civil rights. Not only is that unconstitutional, it is immoral. The fact that religion was an underlying factor for the 28 Republicans who did not vote for it may seem obvious, but it is clearly demonstrated best not in their votes, but in the fact that only 1 Democrat, Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, did not vote in favor of the law either. His reason: “God, not Albany, has settled the definition of marriage, a long time ago.” Poor misguided Díaz. It’s sad really, because this reasoning demonstrates exactly how the closed-mindedness of organized religion can blind some people so badly that they lose sight of their own civic responsibility, to uphold basic human rights for all citizens in their constituency, not just the ones who pray the same way they do. Clearly, they have forgotten that we live in a country that celebrates religious freedom and is based on the division of church and state. One can only hope that they may discover the error of their ways and seek forgiveness from those they have offended. But I’m not holding my breath on that one.

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