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Michele Somerville

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Marriage Equality in New York: A Moral Triumph

Posted: 06/29/11 12:35 PM ET

As I observed the blossoming gaiety via live feed from the floor of the New York State Senate floor last Friday night, I thought of every gay high school kid in New York State who'll find hope in the equal marriage rights legislation that passed into law in New York State this past weekend. I thought of the power such legislation can have to erode bigotry and to open hearts. I thought of my own three teenagers who would celebrate the news the following morning. And I thought of my gay brother Scott who died too soon to see this day in his hometown of New York City. I'm not sure Scott was ever the marrying kind -- but the message this legislation sends is not just for the marrying kind. Nor is it only for the gay kind. This kind of lawmaking elevates us all. It brings up our moral game.

A few Christmases ago I was talking schools with the mother of a friend of one of my daughters. The name of one of the most selective schools in New York City came up. I explained that even though my older daughter had been admitted there, I chose a less selective school -- for reasons having to do, in great part, with the school's ultra-conservative character. "I don't want my kids in schools like that," I said, "if I can avoid it."

"I can't have my kid in a school like that," said the fellow mom, a married lesbian mother of two. For her, the aforementioned discretion was not a luxury.

Gay kids are not the only juvenile victims of homophobia. The children of gay parents are as well.

Even in New York City.

Which brings me to my next point. On any given day, I am a proud New Yorker, but having long harbored equal marriage envy, I am pleased to be enjoying a novel sensation of "Empire State" pride in being a same-sex marriage state. It delights me to imagine that my city, already a travel destination for so many LGBT people, should become a gay wedding destination.

I take pride in my governor, Andrew Cuomo, too, who grew up in New York City, and pushed like a New Yorker for equal marriage legislation. In the course of his press conference Friday night, Cuomo called New York "a beacon of social justice." He was referring to the state, but the City of New York fits the description.

Progressive Catholics use the term "social justice" a lot. I liked hearing my governor employ this (secular) term outside of church. My guess is Cuomo grew up hearing about "social justice" in the context of his Catholic life. The histrionics of the New York City bishopric notwithstanding, many New York Roman Catholics view the attainment of equal marriage rights in our state as Christ at work in mysterious, and not so mysterious, ways.

The demeanor of so-called "Christians" as they have fought to keep marriage discrimination in place this past year has been disheartening and disgraceful. In his campaign to oppose equal marriage rights, New York State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal Christian minister aligned himself with an other so-called "Christian" man of the cloth, Ariel Torres Ortega who stood on the Bronx Borough Hall steps and publically declared those who engage in homosexual sexual acts as "worthy to" (worthy of) "death." Watch the tape and see "Christians" in action.

New York Senator Diaz is one of those 'hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner' men of the cloth. Diaz has stressed that although he personally loves and respects some gay people, God just isn't on board with gay sexuality. Diaz likes to point out that he has a gay person in his own family. By now it should go without saying -- but perhaps bears repeating -- that the "some of my best friends are" argument, in defense of prejudice, doesn't cut it in 2011.

Erica Diaz would seem to agree. In her June 5th, opinion piece which appeared in the New York Post, the 22 year-old lesbian granddaughter of Senator Diaz (who publically outed his granddaughter when she was 20) summed up nicely how even 'polite' bigotry damages families.

... I want him to know that every word he utters hurts his own blood.

Yes, every word he utters hurts his own blood. And silence like that Diaz the elder advocates calls for the blood of many.

You cannot tell someone that you love them and stay silent when people call for their death.

Maybe it's legal enough for a senator to consort with a man who calls out publicly for the death of gay people, but is a senator who declines to repudiate him fit to hold public office? Can a man who calls for the death of people on the basis of how they love be properly considered a "Christian?" And can any cleric who declines to distance himself from men like Ariel Torres Ortega be trusted at all in the role of spiritual leader? I think not.

But I'll take an Ariel Torres Ortega over a Ruben Diaz any day. Both men despise gay people,
and sure, a guy like Ortega has innocent blood on his hands, but even players on his own squad (NOM: National Organization for Marriage) know the raving of Reverend "gays-are-worthy-of-death" is all-out lunacy.

In a game of "bad cop-good cop" one knows where one stands with the "bad cop." But kids are beaten up in schools, in bars, and on street corners every day for being gay as a result of polite anti-gay bigotry promulgated in God's name. Polite homophobia is likely every bit as sinister as its more blatant counterpart.

Roman Catholic bishops have fancier mouthpieces than do storefront preachers from the Bronx. When it comes to communicating its message on homosexuality, the Roman Catholic hierarchy excels at the role of "good cop," as it downplays its claim that all homosexuals are "disordered" and couches its whole take on things in rhetoric. Archbishop Timothy Dolan plays the "good cop" with impressive elan. Read his blog entry concerning an anti-gay demonstration that took place after a mass he celebrated at a church in Milwaukee:

...on an otherwise magnificent Wisconsin autumn day, were a couple dozen very vocal protestors, representing some off-brand denomination, shouting vicious chants and holding hateful signs with words I thought had gone the way of burning-crosses and white hoods.

Is he for real? Are we really supposed to believe that the archbishop did not know such signs are used in modern day protests? Does he read the newspapers? Note how he side-swipes fundamentalists characterizing the protestors an members of an "off-brand denomination." I have no wish to defend the Westboro nitwits (the group to which Dolan probably refers) but it seems to me Dolan's own religion got its start as an "off-brand denomination."

Dolan would do well to leave the "holier than thou" attitude (as it relates to the accusation that his church is too gay-friendly) to others. Let the churches without sin cast these particular stones, because in this, Dolan's church is far more sinning than sinned against.

In some ways the Roman Catholic Church really is gay-friendly. The disproportionate number of gay priests might explain this. But no amount of doctrinal spin can mask the Vatican's true views on gay people. According to current church doctrine, gay people are "disordered," and the way they make love is a grave sin. This is not, by any measure, acceptance.

Welcoming only celibate gay Catholics to the altar is anti-gay. Pathologizing the love gay people share is anti-gay.

We are not anti anybody; we are pro-marriage. The definition of marriage is a given: it is a lifelong union of love and fidelity leading, please God, to children, between one man and one woman.

The definition of marriage by no means a given. The definition of marriage has been in dramatic flux for two thousand years of Roman Catholic Church history.

History, Natural Law, the Bible (if you're so inclined), the religions of the world, human experience, and just plain gumption tell us this is so. The definition of marriage is hardwired into our human reason.

The notion that the definition of marriage is "hardwired" into human reason is a figment of the archbishop's imagination. Gumption? Is gumption a sound basis for depriving people of equal marriage rights? The Bible? Would he return to the multiple marriages of the Old Testament? Or to the thousand plus years during which men essentially owned their wives?

The Roman Catholic leadership speaks out of both sides of its mouth when it claims to love gay people while demanding lifelong celibacy of them. There'd be more honor in announcing thus: 'We love gay people, men especially, because they continue to prop up our priesthood. And we love that there are still LGBT Catholics willing to put money in our offertory baskets.'

Love the sinner, hate to lose the tithes.

The Roman Catholic argument that marriage is designed by God for the sole purpose of producing offspring is fallacious. The church does not ask couples who are infertile to eschew marriage. The church does not forbid post-menopausal women to engage in sex with their spouses. As for the argument that marriage promotes order in families; do the children of gay parents not deserve these protections?

Catholic doctrine already upholds the sanctity of non-procreative, or what it calls "unitive" love in heterosexual marriage. The "love the sinner, hate the sin" message Roman Catholic doctrine promulgates is little more than a more polite version of "God hates fags," because it classifies even the most spiritually elevated lovemaking between committed partners as sin.

Dolan may love gay Catholics but he doesn't love them well enough to stop playing on the National Organization for Marriage team with the the Knights of Columbus who help to bankroll groups that hold rallies featuring men of the cloth who call for the death of gay people in God's name. According to a report in the Iowa Independent $1.4 million into NOM for Marriage.

And in the role of "bad cop" we have the bishop in charge of Roman Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens (NYC). It would be folly to expect to see him in the role of "good cop," for he is one bad actor. He is, after all, that man who was fool enough to compare same-sex marriage to marriages between people and their pets on journalist Fred Dicker's New York radio show. DiMarzio in the role of thug is nothing new to Roman Catholics from faith communities in Queens and Brooklyn. He's the guy who threatened to close down parishes that voted for politicians who supported legislation that would crack down on rapist priests. His most recent tantrum is just silly. DiMarzio has now called on Catholic parishes and schools to help him exact his pound of flesh. He asked that Catholics

refuse any distinction or honors bestowed upon them this year by the governor or any member of the legislature who voted to support this legislation. Furthermore, I have asked all pastors and principals to not invite any state legislator to speak or be present at any parish or school celebration.

Good luck with that. In this quest for payback, the widely distrusted DiMarzio will be enthusiastically ignored, but for those Catholics who would aid the bishop in wreaking vengeance, DiMarzio's comrade in the anti-equal marriage rights crusade, Reverend Ariel Ortega Torres, might be available.

People like Dolan and DiMarzio underestimate the power of the examples set by Catholics like Governor Cuomo who show the world what putting Catholic primacy of conscience over blind obedience looks like. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is on the wrong side of this social justice issue, but in New York State on Friday night, morality prevailed. The secular government demonstrated the virtue today's Roman Catholic leadership lacks.

As a practicing Catholic, I take pride in this moral outcome as well as in all the Catholic political leaders who made equal rights marriage possible in my state. Legalization of same-sex marriage in New York is quantum leap which promises to catalyze radical change in attitudes. I'm glad the good guys won on Friday night -- I'm glad the 'gays-are-worthy-of-death' team of lost ground.

As I watched I thought about children. I thought of the hungry children all that Knights of Columbus NOM money might have fed. I thought of former students I've had who have struggled with being gay and closeted, gay and bullied, gay and rejected by their families. I thought of the many children in my life who have gay parents.

I thought of how my dead gay a brother has ten nieces and nephews; odds are, at least one is gay.

I thought of something the $172,100-a-year president of National Organization for Marriage said he feared might come to pass:


New York schools will soon be teaching that it's just as good for Jimmy to grow up and marry Johnny as it is to marry Mary,"

Yup.

Because it is.

Halleluia.

 

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