The battle for marriage equality in New York state has reached a crucial point. Also: A familiar one. The New York state assembly passed a bill legalizing gay marriage last Wednesday — one of three bills to do so, the other two having been passed in 2007 and 2009 — and the bill is currently stalled in the Senate, where the previous bills were defeated. Governor Andrew Cuomo has worked to rally tie-breaking Republican support, and conservative Christians are lobbying for language that would allow religious organizations such as adoption agencies to continue discriminating against same-sex marriages.
But, the situation feels new. And exciting: The bill has been characterized as a “tipping point,” not only for New York, but for the country. Its passing seems more than likely; Cuomo’s strategy of getting several Republicans to vote in favor of the bill, so that none of them has to be “the one who voted for it,” is apparently working. Even opponents of the bill are conceding that, if same-sex marriage does not become legal in New York now, it will become legal: It is, in fact, “inevitable.”
To understand why, it’s worth looking at the language of the opponents, in all its ridiculous, homophobic fury. Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been the loudest voice speaking against of the bill. He claims (as most opponents do) that this has nothing to do with being anti-gay, while also proclaiming that “not every desire, urge, want, or chic cause is automatically a ‘right.’ And, what about other rights, like that of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and a dad?” So, there you have it: Wanting to marry your long-time partner is more or less equivalent to wanting a pony, and war widows with children are an abomination unto the Lord. Unless, of course, they’re not, and this is just about the hideous threat of being raised by a loving same-sex couple.
Dolan’s language to describe the whole situation is reliably apocalyptic, and just as reliably entertaining: He describes the fight for gay marriage as a “rush to tamper with a definition as old as human reason and ordered good,” raising the question of whether Archbishop Timothy Dolan can tell the difference between political affiliation and Dungeons and Dragons character alignment. In a radio interview, he added that same-sex marriage was “a very violation of what we consider the natural law that’s embedded in every man and woman,” which raises yet another interesting possibility: Perhaps Timothy Dolan believes straight people are cyborgs, programmed to only comprehend one form of relationship, and that their logic circuits would overload and catch fire if they were to walk past a married gay couple on the street.
Other opponents of the bill are no less histrionic. New York State Giants player David Tyree (football players are the unacknowledged legislators of the world) has proclaimed that “if this does come forth… this will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, it is a strong word, but anarchy.” Because, of course, nothing captures the chaotic, rule-busting spirit of anarchy more than entering a deciding to have sex with the same person for the rest of your life, and registering said decision with the state. Tyree has also fantasized aloud about somehow traveling back in time and lose the 2007 SuperBowl, in order to stop marriage equality from being legalized.
It’s easy to be infuriated by these quotes, or to spend all day dissecting them. But one thing stands out: The threats they pose, should same-sex marriage become a reality in New York, are all terribly vague. Gay marriage opponents, when forced to come up with a down side to gay marriage, can only go for big, scary threats that don’t mean anything: Anarchy! Chaos! The end of all goodness! Lost Super Bowls! Slight word redefinition! (Okay, so that last one is less a threat than a basic fact of how language works. Still: Be afraid! Your right not to buy a new dictionary is at risk!)
The reason for this is simple: There are no actual, practical down sides to gay marriage. Threats of vague, futuristic, supernatural consequences are employed simply because threatening real-world consequences can’t be found. Which is probably why the majority of New Yorkers support same-sex: In a June poll, 58% said they supported it, while only 36% were opposed. Most people seem to recognize that letting the nice couple down the street get married — regardless of their respective genders — is the considerate thing to do, doesn’t hurt anyone, and, really, is just one more opportunity to practice the consummate virtue of minding your own damn business. In fact, it could have a few nice side benefits: A 2007 report found that it could bring in $184 million to New York state, and $142 million for New York City alone, mostly in wedding expenses. And then, of course, there’s that whole “ending a legacy of shame and oppression by no longer actively declaring a class of citizens to be subhuman” thing, which I’ve always found to be a real mood-booster.
It’s not so much that we are at a tipping point. It’s that we’ve already substantially tipped. Even Senator Greg Ball, who has spoken against the bill — and bragged about being thanked by Dolan for it — eventually turned the question over to his Twitter followers. ”Opening up the discussion! So, if you were me, how would you vote on gay marriage? Yes or No?” He’s been flooded with responses. And they are overwhelmingly in favor of yes. And they just keep coming. No matter how Ball votes, it can hardly be said that he hasn’t had the opportunity to hear the will of the people.
Hysteria about “redefinition” aside, marriage has always differed from place to place, and from time to time. And it has always changed to conform to the needs and values of its culture. Right now, the needs and values of New York do not include needlessly discriminating against a few folks, for the sake of a football player and a blowhard. Or for anyone else’s sake, really. To oppose gay marriage is to privilege the deeply silly and irrational concerns of some over the basic common sense of the majority. Which, it seems, politicians are increasingly unwilling to do. And good for them. Aside from being the right thing, it’s also their job.