03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Human Rights Humiliation

When is the last time any of our state and federal law makers actually read the U.S. Constitution? Yesterday, New York State rejected gay marriage legislation, claiming that New York residents were either too preoccupied to concern themselves with human rights and/or that most major religions do not condone it.

Last time I checked, the foundation of our democracy is based on, among other things, the separation of church and state. Religion is a cherished personal freedom, never meant to be restricted or used as the basis for legislative policy-making. If the tenets of our major religions are invoked (as by Sen. Ruben Diaz) as a rationale for limiting the rights of US citizens, perhaps we should take a closer look.

Why are we allowed to still eat beef, pork or shellfish, when these are banned in many holy books? Drinking alcohol and even tea or coffee is similarly forbidden. I see no calculated and well-financed referendum baiting going on against Starbucks or McDonald's. "Do not dishonor your parents" and "do not commit adultery "should be familiar phrases to everyone. If the first were law, all of our teenagers would be in jail. If the second were law, we would have to convert the entire state of Alaska into our own version of Siberia during Stalin's years at the helm.

Religious leaders such as Sen. Diaz and Richard Barnes of the NYS Catholic Conference perceive this human rights humiliation as an affirmation and vindication of the perceived belief that marriage is narrowly defined as between a man and a woman. Is this the sacred bond that produces a 40-50% divorce rate? Is this the Catholic Church whose many burdens includes those of the unending litany of priests who abuse other people's children and father their own out of wedlock? I suggest they open their history books and turn to the chapters on the Civil War and the civil rights movement, women's rights and earning the right to vote, and the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers. These were all unpopular ideas, opposed by many, and ultimately championed by the triumph of humanity and equanimity. How about focusing on the Bible's benevolent and merciful lessons, such as treating others as you would have them treat you.

How did something so very basic become so lurid and convoluted? This is about love, commitment, responsibility and legitimacy. We have families, we celebrate births and mourn deaths, we work hard, we obey the law and we pay our taxes. There have been gay couples for as long as there has been life, and I don't think we can pin anything on them except frustration. We are Americans who want to serve this nation proudly, stand before our friends and family in love and tell our children that we are worthy and, for better or for worse, married.