Less than three weeks after we celebrate our nation’s independence this weekend, the long-term inequity against homosexual and lesbian couples will come to an end in New York State.
By a slim margin of 33 to 29, the GOP-controlled State Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill last Friday, with only four Republicans supporting it. The Democratic-controlled Assembly already approved the measure, so when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law minutes before midnight, it opens the door on July 24 for gay men and women across the Empire State to lawfully marry and enjoy the same privileges and benefits as heterosexual couples.
This landmark legislation does not grant any special status to gays — just long overdue privileges. When the announcement came, carefree revelry erupted on streets of Greenwich Village, where many in the gay community live and interact, as they danced and embraced to celebrate a major victory for which they’ve struggled for the last 42 years.
New York joins five northeastern states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut — and Iowa that had previously sanctioned same-sex marriage. From time to time when in my teens, friends and I would utter anti-gay slurs among ourselves, which is not uncommon within a closely-knit group seeking camaraderie about something that they have misconceptions and no awareness. To ‘macho’ guys, homosexuals were ‘queers’ to be ridiculed because we were unfamiliar with their world, so we engaged in verbal stupidity. But, as my perspective matured, I recognized that gays were entitled to equal rights.
My first — conscious — encounter with gay men occurred when I worked as an usher one summer at the Loew’s State movie theater in midtown Manhattan with five other ushers, including three homosexuals.
One day, an usher named Wesley came to work and was eager to show me a photograph of himself from a transvestite revue at a club in Greenwich Village. He was dressed in a gown similar to one Audrey Hepburn wore in “My Fair Lady.” I honestly told him he looked stunning. He hugged me and invited me to see the show. I declined and admitted I would feel uncomfortable, which he understood.
My fleeting rapport with those three ushers to some extent opened my eyes to their lifestyle. Despite their sexual orientation, we shared a love of old movies and the ability to poke fun at each other without resorting to bitterness.
As you would expect, in the days leading before the marriage equality vote in Albany, Christian groups, including the Catholic Church, Bible thumpers and others, lobbied legislators against supporting it and chimed in that same sex marriages would “spoil the moral fabric of our nation.” Archbishop Timothy Dolan said marriage equality constituted an “ominous threat” to all that is good and decent.
Condemnation of gay marriage, especially by the Catholic Church, smacks of a double standard. Has the archbishop forgotten that his Church has yet to duly atone for overtly ignoring and covering up decades of priest pedophilia? Surely, the thousands of young men physically abused and psychologically scarred have not.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the new law is “a historic triumph for equality and freedom” and comes at the ideal time.
On this July Fourth in New York, it’s gratifying that same-sex marriage has been sanctioned — though some Americans will never accept the homosexual way of life and the Defense of the Marriage Act denies federal recognition of same sex marriages. When the milestone legislation takes effect, every New Yorker, regardless of gender, will be entitled to the cherished equality sought and attained by our Founding Fathers 235 years ago.
For a country proud of its freedom and independence that repeatedly pushes those principles on other nations, some Americans are awfully discriminatory, particularly when it comes to homosexuality that is merely an individual choice with which they disagree.
The Marriage Equality Act ends discrimination against gay men and women in New York and adds more meaning to the phrase: Liberty and Justice for all.