Friday, June 24, 2011

From Stonewall to the Wedding Hall

[S]eparated by a generation, a phalanx of state troopers and 10 feet of red marble. 
That's how Nicholas Confessore and Michael Barbaro, writing in the Times, described the demonstrators outside the chamber of the New York State Senate tonight while inside the senators were voting on whether to enact legislation allowing same-sex marriage in the Empire State.
The answer they gave, by a vote of 33-29, with 4 Republicans crossing the aisle to vote with 29 Democrats, was a resounding "Yes."
And it's damn well time.
The other day I was talking about gay rights and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment with a prospective client who cared deeply about the issue.  I told him that I was quite sure that in his lifetime, if not in mine, it would be understood that gays and lesbians would be entitled to equal protection of the law.  I thought that not because it's right that the Equal Protection Clause should be so extended.  It is right, of course, but I don't count on the courts simply doing the right thing. No, my reasoning was based on that old 1960s bugaboo: The Generation Gap.
The evidence is absolutely clear.  Younger people support gay rights.  Opposition comes from the old.
And so it was.
In the corridors of power.
With the cops to keep the peace.
“Support traditional marriage,” read signs held by opponents. “Love is love, Vote Yes,” declared those in the hands of the far more youthful group of people who supported it. 
Now, in New York, it was time.
For Senate Republicans, even bringing the measure to the floor was a freighted decision. Most of the Republicans firmly oppose same-sex marriage on moral grounds, and many of them also had political concerns, fearing that allowing same-sex marriage to pass on their watch would embitter conservative voters and cost the Republican Party its one-seat majority in the Senate. Leaders of the state’s Conservative Party — the support of which many Republican lawmakers depend on to win election — warned that they would oppose in legislative elections next year any Republican senator who voted for same-sex marriage.
But after days of agonized discussion capped by a marathon nine-hour, closed-door debate on Friday, Republicans came to a fateful decision. The full Senate would be allowed to vote on same-sex marriage, the majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, said Friday afternoon, and each member would be left to vote according to his conscience.
Voting one's conscience.  What a strange concept.
But sometimes, not often but sometimes, legislators forget that they're supposed to march in party lockstep.  Sometimes they get to say that they were elected not solely to be the voice of the portion of their constituency that elected them but to exercise independent judgment.  Independent, even, of party.  Independent, even, of pure politics.
"The days of just bottling up things, and using these as excuses not to have votes — as far as I’m concerned as leader, its over with," said Mr. Skelos, a Long Island Republican. 
We'll see how long, how far that lasts.
But for now.  For tonight.
Good work guys.
On to Washington.

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