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A New Day in New York

From Gay Marriage for New York

The morning after New York has passed Marriage Equality is an occasion sufficiently momentous to depart from my usual topics, so I’d like to try my hand at some social commentary!

It’s one thing for Marriage Equality to pass in another state.  But when you wake up for the first time as a resident of a state in which it’s possible for you to marry, it’s a whole other thing altogether.  As we were watching the vote in the Senate chamber last night and the results were announced, the closest I could compare the feeling to was when Barack Obama was elected.  But this felt much more profoundly personal – the achievement of real results.

I flashed back to all the moments in my life when the personhood and dignity of LGBT people were maligned by the proponents of discrimination, and all the moments when watershed progress happened.  The ramping up in the 1980’s of politicized homophobia by socially conservative organizations.  The deadly official silence on AIDS by the Reagan Administration.  President Clinton’s initial push in 1993 to open the military to gays resulting in the crushing hypocrisy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, followed by the odious Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 – both of which many in Congress continue to defend.  The Supreme Court affirming Texas’ sodomy law, also in 1996.  The same court overturning that law in 2003.  The Ellen Show in 1997.  The first civil union law in Vermont in 1999.  The success of same sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004, followed by much of New England in 2009-’10; and the disappointments of Hawaii and California, particularly the passage of Prop. 8 in 2008.  The cynical use of the ‘threat’ of gay marriage in the 2004 election.  The time immediately after the same election that my partner and I were harassed in a local restaurant.  Enduring every presidential candidate’s hedging on the issues of same sex marriage and DADT, or flaunting their social conservative credentials at our expense.  The failure in 2009 of Governor Patterson’s attempt to pass Marriage Equality in New York.  Then Congress repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell at the end of last year (still pending).  And now Governor Cuomo’s strong and brilliantly orchestrated push to finally get this done!  In New York – the state of Stonewall, of Broadway, the arts capital, where the Speaker of the NYC City Council is gay, along with so many other influential leaders.  With all the steps backward and forward on gay civil rights, it is unspeakably gratifying to see an unmistakeable and irrevocable step forward.  This historic moment brings a powerful catharsis to the arc that we’ve lived through of discrimination and progress.

On the semantics – the decision to adopt the expression Marriage Equality over same sex marriage was so astute.  The other terms previously used – same sex marriage, gay marriage – had the unintended effect of stoking controversy (or intended, depending on by whom it was being used).  It was a crucial strategic move, and key to the recent sea change in public opinion, to reframe this issue as one of equality.  After all, that is what this is about.  George Lakoff writes in Don’t Think of an Elephant! about the importance of language and how skillfully conservatives have used focus group-tested phrases for maximum effect.  It’s about time we progressives caught on – Marriage Equality is a brilliant example.

Last night when the vote came through a subtle but palpable weight was lifted from my psyche and from that of countless LGBT New Yorkers.  Living with pervasive institutionalized homophobia and discrimination is a burden which so many of us have lived with for our entire adult lives – so much so that you simply register it as part of the omnipresent background noise of our lives.  But it wears on one.  And it frames the entire way in which we relate to society – as outsiders.  That could actually be a good thing, especially if you do find a community, which I have been fortunate to have.  But we didn’t choose it; most outsiders don’t.

With a big and consequential state like New York passing Marriage Equality, it feels very much that we have reached a tipping point in the acceptance of LGBT people in this country.  To be sure – DOMA is still in force, legal discrimination of LGBT’s is still a reality in 44 states, and it will take an unknown number of years for all of this to play out, both in those other states and at the federal level.  But however long it does take, the direction is clear.  There are still plenty of people out there who want to banish us back to the fringes – the organizations and public figures with virulently homophobic agendas who inconceivably are still treated seriously by the media.  But their prejudice is no longer codified in and rationalized by New York law; that is huge.  This will soon be true in more states as well; New York’s big step toward equality puts the wind in the sails of the movement for equality everywhere.

In a civilized and progressive society all people must have equal rights.  Legal discrimination against some can no longer be rationalized by the religious and moral views, and sheer prejudice, of others.  Ten years from now people will look back and say, what was the big deal?  “All [people] are created equal, and are endowed…with certain unalienable rights.”  It really should be that straightforward – so to speak.

One Response to “A New Day in New York”

  1. ginger says:

    Great article Heather. You said it well.
    Indeed changing the issue to Marriage Equality made a significant difference didn’t it?
    Looking forward to that time ten years down the road that you predict.

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