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.
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