If I were New York State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., I would not have given that interview to the New York Times yesterday about gay marriage. Of course, Díaz may not care about being morally or intellectually consistent. He may care only about appeasement -- of his constituents with a vacuum of moral leadership, and of his conscience with sloppy rationalizations of his own bigotry against those he claims he "loves." But the interview shows his opposition to marriage equality in New York state to be just plain stupid, and history must hold him to account.
Díaz is a staunch opponent of marriage rights for gay people, and as a Democratic state senator in a party with a razor-thin majority, his resistance gives him great power on this issue. He also has two gay brothers, a gay granddaughter and a gay chief counsel, whom he insists he loves and respects. "So how could I be a homophobe?" he says. Can he be serious? Do people really think they can seek to deny people the same rights as they enjoy, and that saying they love the people whose rights they're trying to block makes it all okay?
People are entitled to their beliefs. They are even entitled to use their beliefs as a basis for their vote to deny others the same rights as they enjoy. But if we're going to bother to have a public discussion about the merits of a proposed law, one thing people are not entitled to is a free pass when their position on said law is utterly devoid of moral or intellectual consistency.
Díaz never offers an argument against gay marriage. "The people of the nation don't want gay marriage," he told the Times. But then he argues the issue should not even come to a vote. If the people don't want equality, why shouldn't their representatives be able to express that will democratically, after debate, in the senate chamber? More to the point, why should the rights of a minority be granted only at the whim of a majority vote? Was it right in an earlier era to deny blacks and women equal rights just because the majority of the nation wished to do so?
Díaz said the vote should not come to the floor because the legislature has "more important issues to attend to." Right now I'm watching a live feed of the Senate chamber. And what are those more important issues? The senators, called together in an "extraordinary session" by Gov. David Paterson, spent the first hour grandstanding about the troops in preparation for Veterans Day tomorrow. And the last hour has consisted of a still shot of a stained glass image of scales, eagles and flowery swirls with a sign saying "The Senate Stands at Ease" while creepy flute music plays somberly in the background.
In addition to the majority tyranny argument, Díaz offers his Pentecostal religion as the reason for his effort to deny gay couples the right to marry. "My religion doesn't allow me to dance," he says, "but that does not mean I don't go to the party. My religion doesn't allow me to drink. But that doesn't mean I can't hang around with my friends. My religion is against gay marriage. It means, I don't agree with what you do. But let's go out. Let's go to the movies. Let's be friends."
Okay, where to start? It's fine, Senator Díaz, for you not to dance, but are you leading the effort to make dancing for others illegal? It's fine for you not to drink, but where is your fierce leadership on reviving that super popular and effective age of Prohibition? It's fine for you not to get gay-married, but why insist on denying others the rights you enjoy? And where is your outrage about all the Jews and Muslims and atheists who are legally allowed to get married even though, according to your religion, they're all going straight to hell? And where is your righteous effort to outlaw Jews' right to observe the Sabbath on the "wrong" day, or to keep Kosher? Might that seem a bit anti-Semitic? And maybe a bit absurd?
So, about this notion that you can ban others' rights because your religion "doesn't agree" with what they do: Have you ever given a moment of thought to how stupid this sounds? Millions and millions of people get married every year in this world. You have no idea what they all do and I bet you don't really care, so long as they're straight. But one thing you can be sure most of them do at one point or another is violate the tenets of their own (and your) religion. To be morally and intellectually consistent, don't you need to give a litmus test to all of them, about "what they do," to determine if you support their right to marry? Or just the gays?
Díaz is proud that he visits Christopher Lynn, his openly gay chief counsel, when he's in the hospital. Too bad his opposition to Lynn's right to marry could mean his partner's healthcare isn't even covered by insurance. "He is a true believer in Christian values," says Lynn by way of defense, "in treating people the way you want to be treated." What on earth is he talking about? Chris, Díaz got married, but doesn't want to let you do the same! Where are you unclear about this? The correct answer to Díaz's invitation to go to the movies even though he leads the charge against your rights is not to defend your boss as a true Christian and enjoy your double dates; it's to say, "go to hell, and find yourself a new chief counsel while you're there."
Many of my loyal readers know my approach as generally conciliatory. I have often cautioned against calling all opponents of gay rights stupid or bigoted. Indeed, most gay people have friends or family who are against granting them equal rights, and it's no easier to suddenly reject them all than it is for them to reject us. But we are fast reaching a tipping point in this dialogue when anyone who cares to pay attention can see that the old arguments against basic equality simply don't hold water (and the results in Maine don't change this -- the overall trend is going our way). Trying to prop them up in the face of this evidence is, at best, dishonest and at worst, well, stupid and bigoted.
The late Sonny Bono once told Barney Frank on the floor of Congress that he knew it was wrong to oppose gay equality, but that Bono just wasn't ready yet emotionally to grant them. This was a rare expression of honesty in the fraught debate over gay rights, but it is what we should demand of anyone who continues to stand in the way of what's right. So far Ruben Díaz fails the test.