Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Cowards of Albany

Today, the state Senate of New York -- or at least quite a few of its senators -- showed just how cowardly and self-serving American politics has become. When, after a year of lobbying and many failed attempts (which were likened by Joe Jervis of Joe.My.God to Lucy never letting Charlie Brown kick the football) to bring the issue of marriage equality to a vote, legislation finally reached the Senate floor today.

Given the political climate (the defeats in Maine, California -- and just about every place else in the country), I didn't really expect the measure to pass. The political climate is also why I shouldn't be surprised that the vote was as lopsided as it was: 38-24. In the months and weeks leading up to this vote that was on-again-off-again several times, it was thought the measure's backers might have as many as 35 votes. Although that was optimistic at best, backers thought they had a real chance at getting 32 votes, the amount needed to pass, and certainly expected to receive 30 votes, or very close to it.

But two interesting things happened when the bill hit the floor. First, only one senator, Ruben Diaz, chose to speak against the measure. (And he a Democrat, no less. Has he read the Democratic party platform?) And his primary argument was the only one opponents of marriage equality can use, since there is no logical reason to deny it -- the Bible. Second, those nearly 30 votes quickly contracted to 24 when it became clear the measure would not pass.

After all, with such a hot-button issue, why be on the side of equality and justice when it's clear most voters aren't? Forget that you're supposed to be a leader, not just a mouthpiece for any bigotry a majority of people feel comfortable with. Just dodge the civil rights issue of your time and enjoy the benefits of re-election and the perks of power. But don't expect history to treat you as kindly.

That's why the Republicans (and Democrats) who lost their chance to be on the right side of the issue didn't speak up; they know, in their heart of hearts, that they couldn't argue against equality without appearing either foolish for taking a position that defies logic, or advocating theocracy. (Something Ruben Diaz was happy to do, saying legislators ought to consult their Bibles when making legislation.)

Once the vote was complete though, the Republicans started talking. “Certainly this is an emotional issue and an important issue for many New Yorkers,” said Senator Tom Libous, the deputy Republican leader. “I just don’t think the majority care too much about it at this time because they’re out of work, they want to see the state reduce spending, and they are having a hard time making ends meet. And I don’t mean to sound callous, but that’s true.”

What? True that you sound callous, or that you are callous?

But beyond that, what does extending the rights and responsibilities of marriage to LGBT people have to do with unemployment or state spending? Nothing, of course. But LGBT people are a convenient (and relatively powerless) minority, and this issue makes for a lovely distraction from the fact that the economy still sucks for working people. So the right latches on to this issue as a way to show they are still in touch with the feelings of the common man. And when it comes time to justify their votes, they don't talk about the issue itself, but use popular opinion as an excuse for why they can't do the right thing. Sickening.

But as posters plastered throughout London during the Blitz said, "Keep Calm and Carry On." LGBT Americans are in a somewhat similar position as Londoners in the early days of WWII. We face the attacks of a powerful, evil (though they think they are doing the right thing) enemy, but if we keep our heads down, go about our business and keep pointing out what the right thing really is, the enemy will one day be driven back.

We lost today. Equality will ultimately be victorious.

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