Saturday, June 25, 2011

Doing the Right Thing

New York is still relatively liberal enough so that even some of its Republican politicians maintain a sense of human decency despite our well-earned reputation for graft and corruption.  Some people were surprised that a few Republicans tipped the scales to help pass the state's new marriage equality act, given the GOP's national reputation as a party of nihilistic homophobic right-wing nutjobs. One of them, a lawyer who lives just across the Hudson River from me in the Town of Poughkeepsie, changed his mind after being initially opposed to same sex marriage..  His about-face isn't really that much of a stretch, considering he has sponsored anti-domestic violence legislation in the past, as well as a recent bill requiring school employees to undergo background checks to weed out the pedophiles. He posted this statement to constituents explaining his position:

In 2009 when the marriage equality bill came before the Senate for a vote, I struggled with the decision.  This is an issue which a great many have a deep and passionate interest, both those for marriage quality and those who support the traditional view of marriage.  In part, the difficulty in arriving at my decision is that I respect and understand the views coming from both sides of the issue.
In fact, my decision today is rooted in my upbringing.  My parents taught us to be respectful, tolerant and accepting of others and to do the right thing. I’ve received thousands of calls, e-mails, post cards and letters.

Many of them, whether they were from proponents or opponents, concluded by calling upon me to do the right thing.  I want to do the right thing, but needless to say, that decision cannot be the “right thing” for both sides of the equation and, whatever my decision, there will be many who will be disappointed.

As a traditionalist, I have long viewed marriage as a union between a man and woman.  As one who believes in equal rights, I understood that the State was denying marriage to those in same sex relationships.  In 2009, I believed that civil unions for same sex couples would be a satisfactory conclusion.
Since that time, I have met with numerous groups and individuals on both sides of the issue, especially during the last few months. As I did, I anguished over the importance and significance of my vote.

Stephen Saland

Poughkeepsie is a pretty conservative place, and judging from the comments in the local rag, his vote may have cost him re-election. And some of the comments are downright threatening, with one reader promising "public humiliation in a restaurant."
But I like to think of my own little town of New Paltz as being one of the radical linchpins of the gay marriage movement.  It's a university town, so that explains why we actually elect Green Party candidates from time to time. It's also a stone's throw from Woodstock (actually Bethel) and a lot of aging hippies just never left.  A young man named Jason West, a recent graduate of SUNY here, was mayor in 2004 when he illegally performed the state's very first same-sex marriages in an act of civil disobedience. He was charged with nearly two dozen misdemeanors by the county district attorney, and served with a court injunction to cease and desist the ceremonial political street theater. The case was later thrown out of court, but Jason ultimately lost his re-election bid to a Democrat since he'd tried to force through a pay raise for himself to supplement the proceeds from his defense fund to pay his legal bills.  After a spell of homelessness and a stint as a grad student on the West Coast, a little older and wiser (but still poor), he was just re-elected mayor last month. (before the liberal students left for the summer!)  The mayoral gig still doesn't pay that much, so Jason is also a housepainter by trade.  To his credit, he has turned down an offer from DreamWorks for perpetual rights to his life story.

New Paltz Mayor Jason West

The  marriage equality law here in New York, as well as the repeal of DADT, were not things that politicians decided to hand out from the goodness of their venal little hearts.  They agreed to go along to get along.  It also didn't hurt that a few Wall Street millionaires who support Cuomo and the rest of the political machine have gay relatives.  It was the gay community and its supporters who got this law through the legislature.  Civil rights movements and small acts of civil disobedience are staging a comeback.  Next up:  the Poor People's Coalition, 99ers United, the Gray Panthers and ever-growing groups becoming too numerous to count. The politicians "evolve" only if the people resolve.


Janet Camp said...

I hope the GLBT community will do everything it can to get Saland reelected. When someone votes for the right thing in spite of party affiliation, he ought to be rewarded, not kicked out.

Congratulations New York!

VLT said...

Boy the Right sure are vindictive about punishing anyone who strays from the party line. It goes to show how they manage to keep their politicians and voters all in the same lock step on issues.

Fundamentalist Catholics and Protestants are kept outraged and stirred up about abortion and gay marriage while they are encouraged to ignore injustice and taught to lack compassion for the weaker members of our society. The whole thing is ass-backwards as my grandfather used to say.

John in Lafayette said...

As both the father of a gay son and an individual who believes passionately that all people should enjoy the equal protection of the law, I can only say I am gratified that New York's legislature saw fit to put an end to this blatant discrimination. Six states down, forty-four to go.

It will be intresting to see what happens when legally married gay couples start moving to states where homophobic bigotry has been written into the constitution; places like Louisiana. The United States constitution requires all states to give full faith and credit to covenants entered into in other states, but I'm not optimistic that Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and company will force other states to recognize legal unions. Rulings based on the law rather than politics, after all, have never been their strong point.

But rather than worry about the future, I'll take this opportunity to bask in the knowledge that my son may now one day actually have the family he desires, and that his family will enjoy the same legal recognition and rights as any other family. That's as it should be.

VLT said...

John in Lafayette,

Your love for you son comes out in your writing. I have noticed it several times when you have refered to him in past comments. It is a beautiful thing to behold.

I, too, look forward to the day when your son can have the family he desires and deserves and his union is recognised by all fifty states.


Anonymous said...

This is yet another case of the Government being envolved in the wrong thing. The Government should do Civil Unions for everyone. The only governing rules should be Age, competence, and closeness of relationship if children are possible. That is all.

After your Government Civil Union you can go to your faith or interest based group and have the appropriate ceremony performed. That way everyone is equal under the law and if you believe, God too.


John in Lafayette said...


Thank you for the kind words. It's a sad state of affairs when turning out your kids solely because of their sexuality is considered reasonable.

Funny story: Was having dinner one night at John's Pizza in Greenwich Village with my son, his friend, and two colleagues of mine who are not bigoted, but not terribly enlightened, either. One of my colleagues - a woman - was telling my son's friend how good looking he was, and how "the chicks" must be all over him. How did he handle it, she asked? "I don't," he said, "I'm gay."

After that the questions came pouring out, culminating with the inevitable, "When did you first realize you're gay?" My son's friend rolled his eyes, looked at my son, and said, "I don't know. When did you first know?"

My son, without missing a beat, said, "My father told me!"

I nearly sprayed the room with beer.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Maureen Dowd nailed President Obinary's jell-o politics to the wall this morning in brilliant fashion while covering the GLBT issue and all the other betryals that describe Obinary's Janus-faced leadership style.

And, of course, I loved Karen's comment (#1) about the success of clever admen in promoting The Big Con of 2008 (my gloss).

But the comments following Dowd also gave us the best yet from Winning Progressive (#7), the hand licking lapdog of the steadfastly loyal breed, Obamabot. WP, as you may be aware, prepares the way for a repeat con in 2012 for THE CON, i.e., TLOTE. I never realized I could have so much fun deconstructing a piece of writing without actually passing out.

4Runner said...

Last night we toasted our gay daughter and my late great gay Aunt Alice who lived in the closet for 40+ years with her partner. Free at last!!

Karen Garcia said...

At long last there was a new civil rights victory to celebrate. Thanks, John and 4Runner for sharing your stories. Happily, people are becoming both more enlightened AND sensitive.