"Treat people as if they were what they should be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming." --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"Their love is worth the same as your love. Their partnership is worth the same
as your partnership. And they are equal in your eyes to you." --New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to a group of Republicans at the governor's mansion, as reported in the New York Times, "Behind N.Y. Gay Marriage, an Unlikely Mix of Forces"
This fall the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine will induct into its Poets' Corner James Baldwin. Baldwin, raised in Harlem and with roots in the rural South, was the son of a Pentecostal preacher. At the age of 17 he left the church and headed south for Greenwich Village to begin writing. His early writings form a collection of essays, "Notes of a Native Son." Baldwin's autobiography, "Go Tell It on the Mountain," followed. He also addressed racism in America, most famously in the two-essay book, "The Fire Next Time." After years in self-imposed exile in Europe, James Baldwin returned in the early 1960s to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. He said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." Years later, a success, Baldwin was asked how disadvantaged he had felt, having started out as a poor, Black and homosexual writer. Baldwin replied, "I'd thought I'd hit the jackpot -- it was so outrageous, you could not go any further, you had to learn how to use it."
I think about all the people across human history who have felt disadvantaged -- often oppressed or unwanted. Some had to hide who they were and how they felt about themselves. They were people told that their sexual identity was pathological and dangerous to others. Lately, I have thought especially about the women and men who did not enjoy public affirmation or the legal rights that have upheld me during 35 years of heterosexual marriage. It seemed strange to me that, as the new law was passed in Albany, some religious leaders continued to assert that people who want to make a commitment that binds them responsibly to someone they love are immoral and somehow the cause of the demise of civilization as we know it.
Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the New York City Council, plans next year to marry the woman with whom she has been living. Recently, as they discussed the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York State, she told Charlie Rose:
Think of a child somewhere in New York State, or anywhere in the country who is in their room watching TV. They see this happen. They know they're gay. They think they're gay. They can't tell their parents. They're terrified. They may not know another gay person. And they see New York State, New York just say that gay families are the same as straight families. That's something that child will hold on to when they're bullied, hold on to when their parents don't accept them.
More than a decade ago, the State of Iowa had approached the issue and considered it a matter of equal protection. Then the legislature reacted by passing what it called "The Defense of Marriage Act" to prohibit same-sex marriage in that state. Eventually, Iowa's State Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional, asserting in its opinion,
We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa on April 3, 2009. The court further addressed the religious concerns, which for some weeks threatened to postpone New York State's legislation, saying that "the sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law."
Michael Judge, a fifth generation Iowan and contributing editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, has a gay brother. He wrote about the Iowa decision in the Wall Street Journal in a piece he titled, "Why Gay Marriage Matters -- The state should recognize our choice of partner,"
I often tell friends that a part of me is gay, even though I've been happily married to my wife for 12 years. What I mean is that in April 2003 I donated a kidney to my older brother David, who is gay. The transplant took place at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics -- and it was, in a very real sense, a miraculous event for our entire family. So when David called me last Friday excited about the Iowa Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage legal, I wasn't surprised. "You know what this means, don't you?" he asked. "It means we can visit those we love when they're dying in the hospital; it means we're finally treated like family."
With lots of gay and lesbian friends and family, I share Judge's acclamation, "Here's to marriage, a 'supremely important civil institution.' And here's to including, not excluding, kindhearted people like my brother David, who want nothing more than to find the right person, settle down, and one day perhaps get married." It really is about commitment, which actually is very moral and is what builds up civilization.