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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Marriage Equality Torpedoed in NY

God bless Sen. Eric Adams for his profound, courageous stand: 
"You don't have to be black to understand the pains of slavery.  You don't have to be gay to respect the rights of those who are."
More fine speeches from the floor of the New York Senate today here.

As Joe.My.God. and lots of others are reporting, the New York State Senate torpedoed marriage equality there today by a vote of 38-24 against.  In reaction, New York City gays and their supporters staged a protest in Times Square tonight.

Maggie Gallagher and her ilk are gloating, of course.


Well guys, it's been a real downer, from the ecstatic high in May 2008 when the California Supremes green-lighted marriage equality to now, one of the low points in our struggle for full civil rights:  first Maine, now New York.  But you know, social change and progress have never come overnight in these United States. 

Look back at the women's suffrage movement, to simply give women the right to vote, no more:  first to last, that took FIFTY YEARS to accomplish, and our great-grandmothers had to endure heartbreaking defeats, over and over and over, in nearly all the state legislatures of that time.

And of course it took a HUNDRED YEARS for blacks to gain full equality under the law, from the end of the Civil War and slavery in 1865 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Loving v. Virginia in 1967.  And all that time they were having to endure the separate and very unequal reign of segregation in the South and contemptuous attitudes in other parts of the nation.

And we could make mention of the similar long struggles of Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and others, for liberty and justice and the equal protection of the laws.  It's a sad but unfortunately true fact of life that majorities with power are very slow to admit others, outsiders, to the charmed circle of equal standing:  barring the intervention of a higher authority, it simply takes a long time for attitudes to change.  Some of us need look no further than our own families, our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, to see the truth of that.

Just like all the other outsiders, we are having to endure the slow process of acceptance and enlightenment.  Our struggle for equal marriage has been going on only a relatively short time:  since 2004, when Massachusetts was the first state to grant it; or you could start the clock with the first civil unions law in this country, passed by in Vermont in 1999.  But when you stop and think about how far we have come in just one single decade, it's actually very encouraging:  at the moment, 5 states (MA, VT, NH, CT, IA) offer full marriage equality, 10 other states, including the District of Columbia, offer civil unions or domestic partnerships with varying levels of rights and benefits, and New York state recognizes out-of-state same-sex marriages.

So nearly a third of the states of the Union recognize and protect, to one degree or another, our relationships, our equality, our humanity.  That's really quite breathtaking when I stop and think about it, as someone who remembers vividly what life was like 40 years ago at the time of the Stonewall riots:  as I've already written in another post, homosexuality was a dirty, ugly word; gay people were completely invisible in daily life; homos and queers were shadowy sex fiends in the popular imagination, the unholy perverts whom nobody ever actually saw in the light of day, but whom everybody just knew lurked in some dark, underground, back-alley place, waiting to molest innocent kids.

Nobody was out; just the suspicion of being queer was enough to get you fired from your job, and booted out of your residence.  In most states, you could be arrested, fined, and jailed, even locked up for hard time in prison, for any sexual activity with another man, even just a kiss if the authorities wanted to take it that far.  You could also be locked up in a mental hospital and subjected to electroshock, lobotomy, castration, or psychotropic drugs to "cure" you of your "mental illness," all totally against your will and without your consent; uncounted numbers of horrified mothers and fathers subjected their own sons and daughters to such barbaric treaments. 

So once again I say:  when I consider how far, how very, very far gay people have come just in my lifetime, the change, the progress we and society have made really is a breathtaking thing.

You guys under 40, who don't remember a time when gay people were not out and visible, were never mentioned on the nightly news, never depicted in TV shows or movies - a time when you could live to be 23 years old, as I did, without ever once meeting a person you knew for a certainty to be gay - well, in the midst of all your justified anger and frustration and outrage, you would do well to take a mental step outside all that sometimes, and consider things from a historical perspective. 

You of the younger generation - who never felt the isolation and despair of feeling like you were the one and only gay person in the entire world - should count your blessings all the while you are fighting for equality.  Things could be worse, much worse.  They have been - and not so long ago.  I know; I was there.

For some of us, it's been a long, long wait already for equality.  Apparently, it's going to be an even longer wait, and it may be that I won't live to see full civil rights for gay and all the other LGBT people all across this land.  But I have faith that such a day will come eventually, even to the remote corners of Texas, and to every city and town, field and plain, hill and molehill of the nation.

It's getting to be a cliche, but Martin Luther King's words remain an anchor of hope and inspiration: 
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
Keep the faith.  Do what you can - for yourself and for all the generations to follow.  Keep hope alive.  Never give up.

Our day will come.  In fact, it's already here.


Anonymous said...

Slightly beside the point, but still: I loved 'The Times of Harvey Milk', but didn't care much for 'Milk' ...

Russ Manley said...

For us Americans, anyway, Milk was a deeply moving film; now our history, and one of our great gay leaders, are enshrined forever in a major motion picture, a classic work of cinema.

Stan said...

The Catholic Church is now rallying to stop the New Jersey legislature from sending a bill to outgoing Gov. Corzine who said he would sign gay marriage into law in our state. If the church is going to meddle into politics why do they still have tax exemption status? I say tax the fuckers!

I admired Harvey Milk greatly, but wasn't that impressed with the movie either.

Russ Manley said...

I'm not understanding, either: I thought it was in the tax code that churches and nonprofits can't take sides on political campaigns. Maybe that only applies to campaigns to elect a particular person, I dunno. But whatever the explanation, it stinks.

FDeF said...

I would urge your readers to go to hulu.com and watch the original documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" on which the recent movie was based. The documentary was superbly done and brings me to tears every time I view it.

Russ Manley said...

Thanks for the tip Frank. I think I saw both, at different times of course, but they run together in my memory now.

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