Day 185: From this Terrace on the 4th of July

Today is the 185th day of the Year, and 235 years since the Founders declared our Inde­pen­dence from England.

By mid-August in 1776 bat­tles raged in Long Island, New York, where this 4th of July week­end many cel­e­brated with fire­works, fancy catered cham­pagne par­ties as well as sim­ple ones on beaches with families.

The 4th of July means some­thing more this year in New York because on the 24th of June, the state passed the Mar­riage Equal­ity Act.  In a few states, my own now one of them, there is inde­pen­dence from an unjust dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Women and Women may marry one another.  Men and Men may marry one another.  If they choose to do so, it will be under the law, with full enti­tle­ment to the enjoy­ment and priv­i­leges of what legal mar­riage means, under the laws of the State of New York.  Andrew Cuomo, our Roman Catholic gov­er­nor, exhib­ited polit­i­cal savvy and went for­ward with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion in order to accom­plish this rev­o­lu­tion­ary equal rights victory.

He did some­thing else as well.   By per­sonal exam­ple, he taught us a les­son that’s become too easy to for­get.  The State and The Church (any church) are not inter­change­able enti­ties.  Some orga­nized reli­gions, faiths and denom­i­na­tions — that is the “Church” in the generic sense of the word — will wel­come cou­ples of the same sex into their sanc­tu­ar­ies to exchange mar­i­tal vows.  And some will not.  That is not the busi­ness of Gov­ern­ment.  The busi­ness of a civil soci­ety, a demo­c­ra­tic one founded on the prin­ci­ples artic­u­lated in the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, is that each of us should be free from the yoke of intol­er­ance and oppres­sion –from another coun­try – or from oppos­ing sets of beliefs or rules of those who would seek to impinge on our rights to full humanity.

New York has done this.  I wasn’t sure it would ever hap­pen.  That it has come into our laws fills me with pride for my adopted State of New York.  The leg­is­la­tion pro­vides hope my home­town state of Cal­i­for­nia will reverse its deci­sion and come back into the fold of  human rights.  Mostly, the pas­sage of the Mar­riage Equal­ity Bill rein­forces a strongly held con­vic­tion about the United States.  If we’re given enough time, and rea­son­able debate ensues among peo­ple of good­will, jus­tice comes.  It doesn’t come as soon as it should, and is often accom­pa­nied by severe causal­i­ties along the path toward free­dom and inde­pen­dence, but it does come.

I posted a few com­ments on my Face­book pro­file page that jubi­lant night when the New York leg­is­la­ture passed mar­riage equal­ity.  Many oth­ers were writ­ing and some responded to what I had writ­ten.  The entry that made the strongest impres­sion was from a child­hood friend whom I’ve not seen in years, but we recon­nected through Face­book.  We were girls together in Lakewood/Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia.  Peggy got mar­ried and had a fam­ily.  She’s lived what appears to be a far more “tra­di­tional” life than I’ve lived.  Yet, it was Peggy who posted a heart­felt remark to my asser­tion that we are all one human fam­ily.  “Good for New York.  My son Steve mar­ried in Cal­i­for­nia dur­ing the brief time it was legal here.”  Read­ing this sim­ple state­ment about her son whom I have never met, from a child­hood friend I’ve not seen for decades brought me right back to her.  And her words made me know how deeply this vic­tory is felt in many fam­i­lies through­out our country.

For me this is a 4th of July about love for this diverse and expan­sive coun­try, and our abid­ing love of fam­ily, love for one another, love of moth­ers and fathers for their chil­dren, gay and straight, love of children’s spouses of dif­fer­ent or same sex.  It is, quite sim­ply stated, about the free­dom to love and to be pro­tected and val­i­dated as equal cit­i­zens under the laws of an amaz­ing and still evolv­ing nation.

In 1991 I pub­lished a book about pri­vacy enti­tled Nobody’s Busi­ness.  I argued that the rit­u­als of our lives, includ­ing mar­riage, legit­i­mated our exis­tence and marked our place as equal cit­i­zens.  I meant, of course, legal mar­riage for all when I wrote this impas­sioned plea for Gay Rights dur­ing the hor­ror of the AIDS years. This was the era when it became easy for many to scape­goat the gay com­mu­nity.  I wrote much of that book with a heavy heart, hav­ing attended too many funer­als, hav­ing lost faith in oth­er­wise ratio­nal peo­ple who were argu­ing against full-scale rights for all.  In these last years I felt we had come to a place where more peo­ple under­stood that to deny equal­ity in mar­riage to one seg­ment of our peo­ple is a vio­la­tion to all.  Then Cal­i­for­nia came and went, as it were, and I was in despair, again.  But not today, thanks to this orig­i­nal colo­nial state of New York, which gave me an oppor­tu­nity to feel the Spirit of 1776 in the fes­tiv­i­ties of 2011.

In Nobody’s Busi­ness I called the sec­tion on intol­er­ance The Open Bed­room.  I did so because of the dra­con­ian laws that per­mit­ted gay people’s pri­vacy to be invaded within their homes, because homo­sex­u­al­ity was deemed ille­gal in some states.  The odi­ous and infa­mous Hard­wick deci­sion of the Supreme Court remains a stark reminder of how far we have come in this long-fought bat­tle.  It would take the Court sev­en­teen years to over­turn that Geor­gia law and their ini­tial deci­sion in Hard­wick. There are still many more miles to travel before we achieve uni­ver­sal mar­riage equal­ity through­out our land. Let’s do this together as one peo­ple, who believe what the Founders did on the Fourth of July in 1776. We are all enti­tled to free­dom from oppres­sion and the right to indi­vid­ual lib­erty and pur­suit of hap­pi­ness. Let us do as Gov­er­nor Cuomo has done.  We can main­tain a loy­alty to our pri­vate and deeply held indi­vid­ual faiths but insist that those spir­i­tual beliefs do not intrude on the sanc­tity of law. — And just as fer­vently pro­hibit prac­tices and laws that intrude on the sacred­ness of faith. —  We can do both in the United States. The prin­ci­ple of the Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State is one of the  most pre­cious gifts con­tained in the sec­u­lar creed of the Constitution.

copyright Katie Bamberger 2011

This is a hol­i­day for open hearts.  A new chap­ter has come to New York, which is what Katie Bamberger’s pho­to­graph says to me.  A blank book with its cen­ter pages folded into a heart.  It’s a com­mu­nal book about love and com­mit­ment ready to be filled with sto­ries of love, lives joined, fam­i­lies formed, and the cel­e­bra­tion of under­stand­ing and tol­er­ance. At long last.

Here is my first entry in the Open Heart Book.

Mark J. Grisanti is a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents the Buf­falo area of New York in the State Leg­is­la­ture.  He opposed same-sex mar­riage in his elec­tion cam­paign.   After vot­ing for the pas­sage of the Mar­riage Equal­ity Act in Albany he reflected that he had ago­nized, that he had thought and thought about it and about his respon­si­bil­i­ties as an elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple of his dis­trict.  In the end he said he could not vote against the Bill. Here’s what he said about why he stood up for same-sex equal­ity in marriage:

“I apol­o­gize for those who feel offended.  I can­not deny a per­son, a human being, a tax­payer, a worker, the peo­ple of my dis­trict and across the state, the State of New York, and those peo­ple who make this the great state that it is, the same rights that I have with my wife.”

Happy 4th of July 2011 From this Ter­race, the Stone Sage Lion and the Empire State of New York, orig­i­nally set­tled in 1626.

©Alida Brill, From this Ter­race 2011




Filed under Community, Compassion, Hope, Inspiration, Life, Love, Politics, Relationships, Uncategorized

4 Responses to Day 185: From this Terrace on the 4th of July

  1. What an amaz­ing way to cel­e­brate this 4th of July! Your elo­quence and inter­weav­ing of thoughts and prin­ci­ples truly con­tin­ues to inspire me, Alida. Thank YOU for your hard work in this move toward equality!

  2. What has hap­pened in New York is so remark­able to me because of the diverse views and back­grounds of the peo­ple who sup­ported it — a Repub­li­can politi­cian, a devote Roman Catholic governor.

    This piece has become my Fourth of July cel­e­bra­tion. I don’t watch fire­works. I don’t go to BBQ’s. But your piece has given me cause to cel­e­brate and to hope that Cal­i­for­nia, which is thought of as being ahead of other states in mat­ters of equal­ity, will soon “see the light.”

    Thank you for writ­ing this for all to see.

  3. I love your blog in gen­eral, but this one is espe­cially perfect–to com­bine pol­i­tics of the moment with the fourth and fire­works is fine and you do it with a seem­ingly art­less ease, the mark of a fine writer. Away gloom and drear!! Alida is speak­ing to all of us. Enjoy this life!!

  4. Katie Bamberger

    A true cause for cel­e­bra­tion! Thank you for writ­ing such a pow­er­ful piece on this recent mile­stone which will surely change so many lives. It is most def­i­nitely a fourth of July to remember!

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