EDITORIAL: Saland vote crucial on marriage equality

BLAME THE PILGRIMS. Huddled on that cold, clammy Mayflower off the Massachusetts coast, waiting  to go ashore in a new world, they came up with this paragraph, a compact, that all the men agreed to. It said that their everyday affairs would be guided by a civil government that they would form. They would all vote for their leaders rather than accept them as ruling by divine right. They also brought with them the odd (Dutch) idea that civil authorities should regulate marriage.

Almost 400 years later and we still haven’t sorted it out. Governor Andrew Cuomo campaigns around the state for the right of same sex couples to marry. The state Assembly has adopted a bill that recognizes the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. The state Senate has yet to act, but a bill is possible before the session ends later this month. Senator Steve Saland, who represents all of Columbia County and much of neighboring Dutchess, could be a key player in deciding the outcome.

 

It’s hard to separate the sincere religious beliefs from the legal theories in this debate. But I see a big gap between them and the pop psychology doomsday folks who believe that allowing people of the same sex to marry will ruin everybody else’s marriage. What kind of marriages do those folks have? I’ve been married to the same woman for 40 years, and I’m reasonably certain that the weddings of my gay acquaintances won’t unravel our (usually) civil union.

I prefer facts. And anybody who looks at the polling data knows that same sex marriages will become legal, normal and unremarkable within a generation. By that time there simply won’t be enough voters who oppose the practice. It’s not strictly a partisan matter, it’s a measure of attitude and outlook, and of age. But politics plays out in the present, and the current electorate is still divided, with most surveys showing a slight majority statewide favors the right of all consenting adults to marry regardless of their sexual orientation. I don’t claim to know the views of voters in Columbia County, but voting trends in recent years as well as the attitudes of people I meet leave little doubt in my mind that support for same sex marriage rights here is strong and growing stronger all the time.

Opponents of legalizing same sex marriage raise the specter of government telling them what they must do in their places of worship. I can’t imagine how the law could be applied that way, but I do see how their fear twists the logic of the current situation. Right now the government of New York State deprives some citizens of a right available to others. That’s the definition of an unwarranted government intrusion in the lives of those citizens singled out for discrimination. The bill passed by the Assembly would protect the rights of all citizens, not threaten them.

Senator Saland has spent much of his legislative career drafting laws meant to protect people. He knows all about voting trends and poll data. Any constituent who doesn’t recognize him by sight probably doesn’t get out much, because he spends a lot of the time in the district. He doesn’t need my analysis of the situation to tell him this is a watershed moment.

In 2009 he voted against a same sex marriage bill. That was a disappointment, but the bill didn’t have as much chance of success as this year’s measure, in part because of Governor’s Cuomo’s strong leadership. This time it really matters, and the Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate. Mr. Saland’s stature and his seniority could tip the balance.

One argument for establishing marriage equality appeals to the vanity of lawmakers, portraying opponents of same sex marriage as standing on the wrong side of history, like those who opposed civil rights or right of women to vote. But history gets rewritten and what matters has more to do with where they stand now on basic American values. For me those values include the right of adult citizens to pursue happiness without government deciding who’s worthy of marriage and who isn’t. It’s an issue of fairness, and the right place to stand on that issue is to support it. I urge Senator Saland to do that by voting for marriage equality in the State of New York.

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