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Martin Maidenberg Headshot

All For One and One For Some?

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Last week, Mayor Bloomberg wrote a piece for the Huffington Post. In his impassioned plea for religious tolerance with regard to the building of a mosque close to the site of the 9/11 attacks the Mayor cites "every individual's right to the freedom to worship as we wish," and extols the importance of honoring the lives of those who were lost "defending these rights -- and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked." Taking umbrage at the thought of anyone questioning these rights the Mayor asks, "In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked "What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?"

The Mayor is making a point that this issue is an important test of the separation of church and state and proclaims that, despite our differences, New Yorkers need to be inclusive and not tolerate the segregation of a certain class of people. While I wholeheartedly agree with the tenets of his argument I find myself questioning if there isn't a bit of hypocrisy in his support.

Whenever I hear someone standing up in full voice for the rights of others I reflexively question if their resolve really applies to everyone. In this specific circumstance I'm speaking of the Mayor and his stance on the issue of marriage equality.

Yes, in the past, Mayor Bloomberg has been a vocal supporter of equal rights for gays and lesbians but he is also known as a major, if not the top, contributor to the Republican fundraising machine, backing many candidates and politicians who are active in their discrimination against the LGBT community. So, this begs the question, if your belief in equality and tolerance for all is so strong why have I not heard such powerful language being used on behalf of the rights of other New Yorkers who have yet to be considered equal in the eyes of the law?

Yes, gay marriage is a complicated issue with heated defenses marshaled on both sides. But opinions are not relevant here. The equality of practiced law is. As the Mayor wrote in his piece, he evoked the spirit of the Statue of Liberty and the welcoming all to our shores, and he projected the argument for our government and laws to be applicable for all, not just for some. With regard to marriage equality, logistically and geographically, marriages are often performed in religious institutions and locations (mosques, churches, synagogues) and it is within the rights of those privatized institutions to deny me access -- I accept that as their right. That is the right of a private organization. But, we are not talking about a private, religious matter. As granted to me by our Constitution, we are speaking of the law and my right to be viewed as an equal in the eyes of the law. It cannot be sanctioned by religion -- or by any other privately, subjective institution. You cannot vote to make me "less than" anyone else. That's called subjugation and/or segregation and, as a society that promotes and prides itself as a bastion of freedom and equality for all, we should reject this outright discrimination against any one group of people.

As articulated last week by Judge Vaughn Walker in the Prop 8 decision, one cannot offer the majority a vote on the rights of a minority group when it involves fundamental human rights. It is not the right of any institution to co-opt the embodiment of what marriage means for their own purposes and it is this separation of law and religion that is guaranteed to me by the Constitution. So then, in the case of marriage equality, why is the interpretation of law being guided by the private sector? Do I have any less right to my emotional connection to another individual than anyone else?

Mayor Bloomberg now has an opportunity to stand up for the equality of all groups with regard to the separation of church and state and the oftentimes-inherent hypocrisy evident in the cries of equality for all. Mr. Mayor, why not step up and use this as a chance to speak out for ALL individuals who are being discriminated against, as you did when speaking of the building of the mosque in lower Manhattan? To borrow from the Mayor's argument, on 9/11, did anyone ask those brave men and women rushing into the buildings whom they were sleeping with before allowing or denying them access?

The Mayor ends his piece by saying, "Political controversies come and go, but our values and traditions endure -- and there is no neighborhood in the City that is off limits to God's love and mercy." Perhaps but this is more of an ideal vision than that of reality. But I have lived in this city all my life, a native New Yorker, and I have yet to be accounted for under all the laws allotted to every other citizen. Mr. Mayor, what building do I need to charge into, burning or otherwise, to have you speak up so passionately on my behalf, for my rights as you are now doing so eloquently for others?

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