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Not Exactly a Profile in Courage: New York Finally Passes Gay Marriage | The Nation

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Not Exactly a Profile in Courage: New York Finally Passes Gay Marriage

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Hurrah! New York has, at long last, decided to join the twenty-first century and recognize the right of same-sex couples to civil marriage.

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Nancy Goldstein
Nancy Goldstein
Nancy Goldstein's work has appeared in venues including the Guardian, NPR, Politico, Salon, Slate, The American...

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Make no mistake: this is a Big Deal. With the exception of Iowa, New York is the first state outside of the New England region to marry queers; it’s also the most populous. What a relief to end this embarrassing episode in history, when the Sodom and Gomorrah of the world lagged behind Catholic strongholds like Portugal, Mexico City, Spain, Argentina and Brazil in supporting marriage equality.

Congratulations, first of all, go to Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, the primary hero of this story. He sponsored the bill and has led this fight for the past decade, alongside Tom Duane in the Senate. Senator Jim Alesi, the first Republican senator to support the bill, deserves a ton of credit for being the first to cross over from his side of the aisle. So does Senator Roy McDonald for following soon thereafter. Kudos to the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign and the rest of the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition for pushing the issue.

Warmest regards and best wishes to all of the same-sex couples that have been waiting until New York state legalizes same-sex marriage to tie the knot here. Could this mean you too, David Tyree? O how New England safety Rodney Harrison clung to you during that dramatic fourth quarter Superbowl XLII catch! It’s nothing to be ashamed of, boys. Bless you both.

But that’s where my congratulations end. Because I have limited patience for narratives about political courage or “conversions” or bipartisanship when it comes to most long-time opponents flipping, especially when polls clearly indicated they had nothing to lose. New York’s politicians have been playing political football with same-sex marriage since the ’90s. The fact that just enough of them finally calculated that it’s to their political advantage to kick us over the goal post is no reason to start lauding the human spirit.

I’m particularly disgusted by all the pols who participated in that long, drawn-out dog and pony show that featured self-professed “religious” legislators from both sides of the aisle covering their asses by pretending that the bill, which already included religious exemptions, needed yet more of them. No one’s forcing religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriages to perform them—every religion will still be permitted to set its own requirements for who can be married within that faith tradition. Or, as Karen Loewy, a senior staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, explains: “Everyone agrees that religious institutions have complete autonomy to decide which marriages to solemnize and celebrate, and the bill already reiterates those protections.”

But some opponents of same-sex marriage are trying to stretch this religious exemption to try to protect the caterers, reception halls and musicians who want to refuse to provide services to gay couples getting married. This is clearly unlawful, based on years of anti-discrimination law in New York state.Think about how this would all be playing out if someone in the mainstream media actually bothered pointing out the parallel between the “right” to refuse public services to same-sex couples and the “right” to refuse to allow people of color to sit at public lunch counters. All of this solemn talk about “religious freedom” is KKK-worthy code for “We can still discriminate against LGBT people even when we hang out a shingle and provide services to the public, can’t we?”

Shame award #1 goes to Nathan Diament for his perverse lie earlier this week that Catholic Charities was “forced out of the foster care and adoption service” because Massachusetts “refused to accommodate religious liberty in its same sex marriage law.” But that had nothing to do with whether the Catholic Church was recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. Catholic Charities refused to work with foster families headed by gay and lesbian couples. Given a choice between opening up its services to qualified LGBT applicants and refusing its services to everyone, Catholic Charities chose the latter and shut its doors on thousands of loving, qualified same-sex couples and the children who badly needed a good home. The disgrace is all theirs.

Shame award #2 goes to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who tried to seize this year’s marriage equality struggle as a grand opportunity to remake his image in time for a 2016 presidential bid. Unfortunately for him, some of us have memories of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. Bloomberg, the largest single individual contributor ($7 million) to the RNC that year, had no apparent concerns about the blatantly homophobic planks in its platform. He lost no time demonstrating how helpful he could be to his new best friends by locking up thousands of protestors for the duration of the convention in NYC that summer, including dozens of HIV-positive people who slept on cold, moldy jail floors for two and three nights until being released.

More recently, Bloomberg destroyed the Advantage program, which helped people in NYC shelters pay for subsidized apartments. It was, according to Kate Barnhart of New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth, “pretty much the only path to housing for many of the LGBT youth in city shelters, since it’s impossible to save up enough to pay market rents with a minimum wage job.” Swanning around Albany and making a big speech at Cooper Union may have been good for Bloomberg’s ego, but did nothing, ultimately, to sway legislators.

Finally, there’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who ended up doing a lot these past few weeks, despite not having bothered to even show up for the Empire State Pride Agenda’s big lobbying day last month. Yet his state budget spared the wealthy the pain of paying their fair share of taxes while slashing homeless youth shelter beds by a third. It certainly didn’t seem to bother him that all youth, but disproportionately the queer youth who make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population, would pay heavily for his cuts. To say nothing of his part in the whole “religious exemptions” debacle.

Here’s hoping that passage of this bill will send a message to our eternally equivocating president that maybe, just maybe, he can finally muster the political will to get behind something that a majority of Americans already support. When that day comes, don’t expect me to hand him a Profile in Courage award. I’ve never sent anyone a thanks-for-finally-getting-it-together-to-support-my-basic-human-rights card, and I’m not going to start now. 

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