|Tom Duane (D-Manhatten) is the only openly gay state senator in the state of New York.
What Just Happened in New York?
Everything went right, thatâ€™s what.
We had a powerful, committed and focused leader in Governor Andrew Cuomo. The GLBT community put aside internecine squabbles, let Cuomo lead, and attacked with unified strategic purpose. We had a bipartisan campaign, with deep-pocketed Republicans holding our right flank.
And finally, we were fighting in a blue state, where polling suggested majority support for marriage equality and where many couples had already married across the New York border and been recognized on many legal levels.
And hereâ€™s the final lesson out of the Empire State. From what I read, we lobbied lawmakers based on justice and fairness. We did not shy away from a full-throated appeal for marriage. This victory wasnâ€™t won through horse trading or playing the victim. This was a direct plea for equality that was finally heard and answered.
Donâ€™t get me wrong. The sad stories of gay spouses abandoned in hospitals or left with huge tax bills are important illustrations of why same-sex couples need marriage equality. But we also need equality for its own sake, period.
Healthy, well-insured couples with no kids need marriage rights just as much as anyone else. Slavery wasnâ€™t wrong because evil masters beat their workers. It was wrong in all cases. Air-conditioned barracks, caviar for breakfast and deep tissue massages every night would not have made slavery acceptable.
Likewise, the fight for marriage is driven by our core need for equality. We have been unable to express this simple truth in our many failed ballot campaigns, and it has cost us. Not necessarily in terms of victory or defeat. Texas would not have rejected an antigay marriage amendment in 2005. Nor would the vast majority of states where such amendments passed easily in the last decade or so. But we might have won in California or Maine. And win or lose, making the case for full civil rights advances our movement. The sooner we make that case, and the more determined our voice, the faster we will go.United We Win
Our competing groups of activists and various GLBT factions are often at each otherâ€™s throats. We love going back and forth between criticizing our leaders and bemoaning the fact that we canâ€™t get it together as a community. We insist on more dialogue and transparency. And (at times) we then proceed to waste our energies in unfocused attacks on ourselves, standing in a circle with guns blazing.
This time, as the New York Times reports â€ś[Governor] Cuomo was candid with gay rights advocates in Marchâ€ť when he summoned them to the capitol. â€śThe advocates had contributed to the defeat of same-sex marriage in 2009, he told them, with their rampant infighting and disorganization.â€ť The Times went on to describe an incoherent community two years ago when the left hand did not know what the right hand was up to. The result was a lopsided defeat for marriage equality after months of happy talk.
After Cuomoâ€™s warning, the Times reports, five advocacy groups united under one banner, New Yorkers United for Marriage Equality and went to work with purpose. Last weekend, we saw the results.
Iâ€™ve been joking in this column about my history of writing excited speculative reports on marriage legislation, regurgitating optimistic projections from activists, only to wind up disappointed. You know what happened in New York in 2009. Earlier that year, we failed to pass marriage in the New Jersey lame duck session, after lots of hype. And then this year, we had the whole Maryland fiasco, when marriage equality was virtually assured! Until it wasnâ€™t.
What would have happened in New Jersey or Maryland if we had sucked it up and worked as one? More importantly, how can we learn from our success in New York and translate it into more victories down the road? True leaders donâ€™t care about their status, their personal power-base or their title. They care about bringing people together to get results. That demands transparency and communication with the grassroots. But it also demands competence, intelligence and the ability to incorporate the input from the grassroots and others to set a course and inspire people to follow it. I know we have a lot of true leaders. We saw them in New York, and letâ€™s hope more of them will emerge around the country.
Hereâ€™s the President on TV. Nothing like a press conference to satisfy a news junkie. Can you wait a second until I can watch his press conference?
Watching a news conference like that one, which ranged from Libya to Afghanistan, to the debt ceiling, to the deficit, to payroll tax cuts, jobs, entitlements and the labor movement, I feel sort of guilty obsessing about gay rights.
But not really. I donâ€™t believe the fight for GLBT civil rights is a political agenda item, so I donâ€™t think it competes with the debt ceiling or jobs or the Arab spring. If we waited for world peace, budget surpluses and full unemployment before we sought equality, weâ€™d be waiting forever.
But because of that, I also donâ€™t care that Obama didnâ€™t tell newsman Chuck Todd that marriage is a fundamental constitutional right. He said he thought the New York vote was a â€śgood thing,â€ť and that he believed in equality. He basically said he thought America was on a slow but sure path towards ending discrimination based on sexual orientation. And as Todd himself pointed out after the conference, Obama was trying to influence opinion on the debt ceiling, and any news-breaking comments on marriage would have totally overwhelmed that message.
Further, I believe that what Obama did last February has been totally underappreciated by our community. At the moment, we are all pressing the man to come out publicly in support of marriage equality and to put a ton of political capital behind repealing DOMA.
Yet last February, the President did more for our community than any of us asked for or even thought of asking for. He declared that sexual orientation discrimination was presumptively unconstitutional and that his administration would not defend any antigay law in court. This policy shift wasnâ€™t limited to the Defense of Marriage Act. As long as Obama isnâ€™t supplanted by some Republican wingnut next year, the antigay crowd will have to find someone else to defend the dark side in any and all federal cases alleging sexual orientation bias against the U.S. government. The House of Representatives? In every case? I donâ€™t think so.
Obama also did this under the radar, with legalese from the Attorney Generalâ€™s office that caught some media fire, but not much. Most people just think he stopped defending DOMA in court. Not true. Even in this recent news conference, Obama reminded the press, to paraphrase, that â€ťmy administration has written a brief arguing that sexual orientation discrimination should be subjected to heightened legal scrutiny.â€ť But that just went right over everyoneâ€™s head as usual. What it actually means is that he is on the side of gay rights in federal court, and thatâ€™s that.
Obama will eventually support marriage equality, and he will put political capital behind the DOMA repeal whenever it looks as if that bill might have a chance to pass. Thatâ€™s not now, and itâ€™s probably not soon. Indeed, marriage equality will advance through the legislatures of states like New York and through the courts, where Obama (a constitutional lawyer) has taken his stand. I have nothing but gratitude for the man, and if you recall, that has not always been the case.
Back to the Past
Speaking of the courts, we have another freedom to marry case on the books, our first since I canâ€™t remember when. Iowa? California?
Well, itâ€™s been a long time, but Lambda is back in court in New Jersey, launching the lawsuit that has been discussed for a year or so.
We â€śwonâ€ť a freedom to marry case at the New Jersey Supreme Court back in the day (2006?) when the justices ruled that marriage rights must be provided equally to gay and straight couples. Then they weaseled out completely, telling lawmakers that civil unions would be an acceptable alternative to marriage if it satisfied the equality requirement.
Lawmakers grabbed the life preserver, and set up a second-class status that by its very nature can never provide true equality to the Garden Stateâ€™s gay couples.
A legislative commission studied the institution of civil unions for over year, determining that it fell short of marriage. Then we had the failure to pass a marriage bill, the defeat of Jon Corzine and the election of Chris Christie.
After these setbacks, Lambda went back to the New Jersey supremes and asked them to enforce their original ruling. Hey! They ruled that equality was mandatory, and years later we have yet to see it. But the high court refused to act, and Lambda has now gone back to square one and sued in state court for the right to marry.
Iâ€™d have to check my notes, but I think Lambdaâ€™s first New Jersey freedom to marry case was filed in 2002, nearly a decade ago. The idea of starting from scratch, particularly after we â€śwon the case,â€ť is frustrating. And it reflects badly on the New Jersey Supreme Court as well. That said, itâ€™s an important move.
Meanwhile, over in Rhode Island, the compromise civil union bill now going through the legislature is so bad that even gay activists want it vetoed in its current state, arguing that its generous religious loopholes actually undermine current rights. The bill was the sad aftermath of (yet another) failed attempt to pass marriage equality earlier this year.Computer From Hell
I think weâ€™ve been far too serious this week, and Iâ€™ve also just about given up on this lazy computer, which has simply decided to take its own sweet time about opening programs and web pages.
What? Oh, Ann. Itâ€™s you again. You want what? Rhode Island civil unions? Oh, I just noticed something, wait a second.
Yes? Ann? What is it now? Rhode Island what? Look, Iâ€™m too tired right now. And Iâ€™m cold. Freezing, freezing, frozen.Hey!
You woke me up. I was taking a nap thank you very much. Now what do you want? That Rhode Island bullshit again? Iâ€™m sorry I canâ€™t think yet. Havenâ€™t had my coffee, you know how it is. Let me just spin my little wheel for a second. Or two. Or three. Itâ€™s a rainbow!
You already pressed that key. Look, I was busy just now and I was going to look up that whatever civil stuff it was you wanted, but you pressed the key two or three times and I canâ€™t handle this. Itâ€™s confusing and itâ€™s giving me a headache. I have to rest now.
Okay, Iâ€™m done with the above computer gimmick and I actually had to use Melâ€™s laptop to look up the dirt on Rhode Island civil unions, because seriously. Mine is dying.
Under the circumstances, reviewing more gay news is out of the question, but I also think weâ€™ve covered enough for one week, nâ€™est-ce pas?
May I also say that Iâ€™m sick of hearing about this woman who killed her daughter, Casey or Corey or whoever? Snippets of her murder trial pop up on every news show at regular intervals, and itâ€™s corrosive. Itâ€™s a horrible story. Itâ€™s not unique or unusual. And itâ€™s getting saturation coverage. Take it off the main air streams and stick onto the crime network!
Itâ€™s depressing. Poor little Casey. The duct tape. The noxious smell of human decomposition emanating from the trunk of the car. Why are they doing this to us MSNBC viewers? Make it stop.