“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
– Martin Luther King
New York State is one vote away.
It is one vote away in its state senate to ratify a basic civil right; the right for a particular group of adult taxpaying citizens to marry. It is a longtime coming for a state hosting the greatest and most progressive spark of the free world on all-things, New York City. It is also a long journey for the largest such state to ratify this right, a state with many political twists and turns and which at its core is socially conservative. And so after lagging years behind other states on this issue, it is down to one more vote to make same-sex marriage the legal right it should be across a nation that loves to parade its pride in providing and protecting the liberties of its people.
I know that I have not written all I am going to write about wars and poverty and repression and hypocrisy and honor and the frailties of the human animal. Not even close. I will be long gone from this mortal coil before I reach that place. Yet, after all I have written on this issue, I certainly have not begun to broach a subject that my wife recently reminded me has been “my most ardent issue.” This was spoken to me two weeks ago when I failed to answer the request to speak with a gay protest group in Manhattan. It forced me to wonder if writing is the only way to get in the fray. And so last week I had a second opportunity and used it to discuss the issue in full-force during a petition rally in the West Village.
But rallies, petitions and protests were never my style. Marching is only effective when it is done on the doorstep of oppression, like Martin Luther King’s famous march on Selma or to the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. I see myself more of an annoying literary voice, shrieking from the comfort of my own keyboard. When faced with “getting involved” I am always reminded of when the great Arthur Koestler mused in his 20s how he would be better served discovering Communism by getting a job in a factory and was set straight by a colleague who reminded him he could do more from the journalism pulpit than in front of an iron press.
Truth be told, it pains me to continue to have to put into words what kind of abject shock it is that I have to comment in 2011 about the denial of basic civil rights to citizens that is done so for no good reason but that a certain segment of society is threatened by it. This of course is the same segment of society that was irrationally threatened by the rights of Jews, Italians, Mexicans, American Indians and the Irish, African Americans and women. The list is long and the embarrassment lasting. And along the fight to deny they used the same arguments you hear today. But the tide of liberty is strong, and soon each denial was silenced by the rule of law; a rule set down in the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution.
The piecemeal theory of applied rights to some and not to others based on strange ideologies is a human sickness, cured eventually by the cold realities that whatever stipulation granted one group of citizens a right has to apply to the other, simple as that. It takes a while, but it gets there. It may do so, as in the women’s right to vote, in several incarnations and ratifications and strange bedfellows like temperance groups that irreparably damaged the country by passing a Prohibition Amendment, or it happens through the states, like abolishing slavery, which then forced some states to secede and then the military came in and put the kibosh on that, or the federal government simply comes in and ends the madness by granting basic civil rights to its citizens above and beyond the will of certain states, and dare I mention we’re in the South again for that one?
But the gay marriage issue is interesting in that it is not regional or attached to the history of American civil rights history, as in the abomination of Prop 8 in California that was passed on the strength of the African American vote, fueled in November of 2008 by the Barack Obama candidacy. The mere fact that people were putting to the vote a right, as in your neighbor deciding if you can play chess after 10 p.m. on a Sunday, is hard to fathom anyway.
The issue doesn’t even seem to be able to crack political leanings, as those on the Left, who enjoy the majority of gay support—a support that has dwindled considerably over the past four or five election cycles according to many polls—yet pay only minor lip service to it, if that. At least a great majority of the Republican Party fights openly and stridently against issue, culminating in the shameless exploitation of it in the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush, who promised a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, only further proving the point of those subscribing to the fact that the only way to deny a right is to legally take that right off the board by jamming it into the constitution. The Democratic Party is either lukewarm or silent on the issue, a far worse crime, especially if those being silent support the issue.
This has never been more evident in light of the President’s speech this week at a New York City gay rights group fundraising function, wherein Barack Obama, the purported progressive new generation politician, was showered with abuse. And so what is the more pathetic exploitation, the use of a social issue to rally the troops against it or one that appears sympathetic to cull its support?
This President, New York and the United States had better prepare for this new tide of history, for slowly it is shifting, as it always had and always must shift in the direction of liberty. For the first time since it has been polled, a slight majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage or at least civil unions.
This has officially become the will of the people.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.