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With Liberty and Justice…

3 Dec

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Yesterday, the New York State Senate failed to pass an amendment that would have opened up marriage rights and equality to same-sex partners. The 38-to-24 was not only split along party lines, with all 30 Republicans voting against the bill, but also split between urban and upstate New York, the New York Times reports. Although the Times quotes Senator Tom Libous, deputy leader of the Republican Party, trying to deflect the issue of equality by claiming people don’t care about it right now because they are more concerned with mortgages and pocketbooks, Staten Island Senator Diane Savino makes the far more eloquent and far sighted argument for equality in America. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and watch the video below:

With her closing statement, “We have nothing to fear from people who are committed to eachother and want to share their lives and protect one another in the event of sickness, illness or death. We have nothing to fear from love and commitment.” Savino recalls the inspirational phrase of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another person who managed to get important things done in the face of economic hardship. As another man who saw right in dark times, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” The question of civil recognition of equal marriage protection (the churches can sort it out for themselves) is not a matter of if, but when, and it was heartening to see that 7 of 10 female senators voted for the bill, as did the entire New York Senate Black Caucus, especially after some of the statistical analysis from the Proposition 8 vote in California suggesting that evangelical black voters had helped pass that ban on same-sex marriages.

So the arc of the moral universe is long, and that arc’s passage through civil society is not without it’s ironies. Savino makes that point with her anecdote about the pedi-cab driver who sticks his head into her car and their access to marriage; Britney Spears’ annulled marriage is a prime example of the cavalier heterosexual treatment of the marriage contract. The extent to which American society has gone to block what should be a basic legal protection if we are to take “with liberty and justice for all” seriously is at times mind-boggling. In an article on South African runner Caster Semenya in The New Yorker, journalist Ariel Levy nails this point in her discussion of the increasingly complex considerations of how gender structures are important to society. Levy writes, “Currently, the United States government recognizes the marriage of a woman to a female-to-male transsexual who has had a double mastectomy and takes testosterone but still has a vagina, but not to a woman who hasn’t done those things.” That is a tragic irony.

The ability of consenting adults to enter into a civil contract that allows them to care for eachother is something that government should administer and facilitate, not adjudicate or judge. The longer the United States and the institutional forces within it try to block access to equal marriage, the further they undermine the promise of the Constitution for equal protection under the law. Love and commitment are inextricably tied to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and so let us respect that. The arc may be long, but the path has been set upon and the destination in sight. Remember, we have nothing to fear from love and commitment

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