Marriage equality is poised to come to the floor for a vote in the New York State Senate – sometime today, sometime on Monday, sometime, sometime. Of course, the number of promises broken by the Republican caucus is legion, and includes yesterday’s assurance that a vote would come by end-of-day, and yet there’s still nothing on the table. Please keep in mind that this first step is just the senators allowing the bill to come to the floor, not passing the damn thing. So far, they won’t even let the measure come up for a vote, and I can only assume that this is because they’re afraid if they do, the measure will pass.
I’ve been part of this debate for years and I’ve been following the chaos of the conversation in this legislative session for the past several months, and there are some things I want to say, and other things I need to know.
Things I need to say:
There’s a difference between “biblical” marriage, which is defined in whatever way a particular denomination wishes to do so, and “statutory” marriage, which is a legal, government-approved union of two lives. The NY vote is on statutory marriage concerns. Talking about the bible, God, theological morality, and religious notions of what “marriage” means is not appropriate to this debate, in that our constitution promises us separation of church and state. Going to the Capitol building and holding up a sign that says “Defend Biblical Marriage” does nothing but prove that the sign-holder is ignorant of one of the fundamental tenets of the principles on which our country was founded. Go to your church, temple, mosque, or whatever building in which you pray and hold up a sign that exhorts those inside to “defend biblical marriage.” Don’t do it at the state house. It is the most specious argument you could come up with to support your position.
For those of you who are delaying in the hopes this bill and the movement behind it will somehow wither and die because you go on summer break, I’ve got news for you: this bill will be voted upon, if not during this session than during the next, if not in the next than the one after that; this head-in-the-sand approach to legislation, where you try to delay it until the people forget about it, is not going to work here – in fact it never works, ever, anywhere. People aren’t going to forget that a large percentage of our population lacks the civil rights that are promised to all Americans. And when it does come up for a vote, the Senators who have thus far refused to let the vote go to the floor and who will vote no when it does come up are going to find themselves, embarrassingly, on the wrong side of history. They will (deservedly) be relegated in the history books as short-sighted bigots who, even in a time of great social change, even in a time when the majority of Americans and the majority of New Yorkers support marriage equality, could not see the forest through the trees.
Things I need to know:
Can somebody please explain to me how it hurts your religion or your church-sanctioned marriage if other people are allowed to receive state-sanctioned marriage certificates?
Did you know that you still get two different certificates when you get married, one from your religious institution and one from the governing body in your municipality?
Do you understand that we’re talking about two different things?
Do you realize you will never be forced to go to a marriage you don’t want to attend?
Do you understand that neither you nor your religious leader will ever be forced to perform a marriage ceremony he or she doesn’t want to perform?
Do you understand that your life will look exactly the same tomorrow as it does today if this bill passes?
Do you realize that your wife will not love you any more, nor will your husband love you any less, if a same-sex couple somewhere in your state gets married?
Do you understand that these people who want equality don’t want to change your views on marriage, they just want the same civil rights that you enjoy? Rights that you promised to uphold and fight for by dint of being an elected official?
Do you realize that you’ll never have to witness one of these marriages if you don’t want to?
Why does this matter so much to you?
How, exactly, does this affect you?
What changes in your life if people of the same sex get married?
What scares you so much?
Senators, you were elected to be leaders, and instead you have chosen to be followers: followers of fear, followers of bigotry, followers of a false panic, followers of people who are leading you down the wrong path. Marriage equality will eventually come to be, not just in New York State but throughout the entire United States of America. Those of us who see the inherent injustice in this new paradigm of inequality are not going to let it go. You can’t wait us out. This will happen, and it will happen sooner rather than later. And when it does, I assure you that you want to be on the right side of history, my friends. See: Strom Thurmond. See: Robert Byrd. See: every single politician who opposed civil rights in the 1960’s. See: their embarrassment. See: their shame. Listen: those still alive are apologizing still, even now, fifty years later. See them, hear them, and ask yourself, “is this how I want to be remembered? Is this legacy of intolerance the one I want to leave my children? Is this the kind of person I am?” And if it is the kind of person you are right now, well, I have to ask: is it really the kind of person you want to be?