What was all the fuss about anyway?

What was all the fuss about? Gays and lesbians wanted to marry. You’d have thought the world was going to explode. Nothing made for better news copy. Some evangelicals literally raised hell. We were Sodom and Gomorrah. God would punish us. Leviticus in the bible was quoted again and again: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” We were about to revisit Jonah’s Nineveh. The cry urging repentance was heard throughout the land. Incredibly, an awful lot of people went along with the bigotry and nonsense and more than a few still do. But, as so often happens, an oppressed group followed Joe Hill’s advice and went on to organize. Since the Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village, gays have been turning on their oppressors and saying, “Enough.”

From then until now, tremendous strides have been made. Our politicians have eschewed the old safe road which condoned bigotry; kicking and screaming, they have been turned around. Sure, some have done so for so-called “political reasons,” but that’s okay. It is classic Americana that getting politicians to have some guts is always helped along with the old labor leader Samuel Gompers’ message that we reward our friends and punish our enemies. No one likes to recognize it but even President Barack Obama was late to the marriage equality party. That’s okay, at least he seems to have gotten there. In New York state, Governor Andrew Cuomo is portrayed as a hero for kicking legislators in both parties until they did the right thing. That may be true or perhaps he saw a wonderful opportunity to cover his blue dog, conservative Democratic tracks by supporting a gay rights campaign. Frankly I don’t give a damn since he did the right thing. His father, Mario, found a lot of similar traction in his stance on the death penalty. They both did what was right and were rewarded for it.

I love the fact that what started as one of the biggest political battles in New York is already being taken for granted. There will be no retreat. There will be no return to the bad old days. The same thing happened with abortion and many of the same political forces and coalitions were behind the rear guard there, too. One can only wonder what in the world the conservatives see in this as they always push to stay in office and to survive. I have talked to many of these politicians and they always tell me the same thing: the most important thing is “the sanctity of the family.” I often ask them how gay marriage de-sanctifies marriage or is against natural law. They always mumble and repeat themselves. At that point there is little you can do. When asked why two people who love each other shouldn’t be allowed to marry, they come back with all that mumbling again. This brings us back to Chartock’s first law of politics. It’s called political saliency. That means that many folks vote based on a single overriding concern. In some cases, the issue is a woman’s right to choose. In others, it’s the political survival of Israel. Here, it’s a gay or lesbian couple’s right to marry; to have families; to be able to visit a loved one in a hospital.

So gays and lesbians and their allies got to together and, like the “Little Engine That Could,” they began to climb that mountain very slowly. But when they reached the top, they picked up speed. They’re not there yet. Not in places like North Carolina where people got behind that voting curtain and let all their bigotry hang out. But in New York, in Massachusetts and in so many other states, it turns out, no big deal. So what was all that fuss about, anyway?

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/6/12

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