Two news events that broke on the same day in mid-November summarized what we as Americans and New Yorkers feel about discrimination.
On Nov. 18, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of two lesbians who wish to be married. On the same day, an executive with the New York Mets was fired for ridiculing a Chinese-American colleague. The Mets’ owners moved swiftly: The offender was given his unconditional release within days of his verbal abuse.
“As a matter of policy our organization will not tolerate any comment or conduct that suggests insensitivity or intolerance to any racial, ethnic or religious group,” the Mets said.
Reading the two stories led to an interesting question: When was the last time an elected official was fired for making “insensitive” remarks about the rights of gays and lesbian couples to marry? And what is the reluctance of progressive New Yorkers to properly label the rabid opposition to gay marriages for what it truly is?
We used to call it bigotry around these parts.
It didn’t take long for the anti-gay crowd to gear up the “Armageddon is coming” hysteria. Wrapping themselves in the flag and some ancient religious shibboleths, they marched to the cameras to spew the usual poison about the impending “destruction of the family structure.”
Missing from the debate were allegedly progressive Democratic candidates and elected officials who are forever asserting their support for gays and lesbians, but who never seem to add that it’s morally wrong to deny them the right to marry.
The phrase “morally wrong” was used 40 years ago by a President from the same state that issued the gay-marriage decree. Just a few days after the court ruling, on Nov. 22, we honored his life. John F. Kennedy gave one of the strongest civil-rights speeches of his era in June 1963, and there was no equivocation on his part about how America should treat its black citizens.
New York passed an anti-discrimination law based on race in 1946. So here we are, 57 years later, and we still talk of gay and lesbian “civil unions” and “domestic partnerships,” but not the unspoken civil right. Who is saying publicly that a gay marriage is nobody’s business? Where are the small-c conservatives who like to prattle about getting government off our backs? Which Presidential candidate will challenge Dick Cheney by asking him why he would deny his lesbian daughter the pursuit of happiness in a marriage? Where is Mayor Bloomberg? He marches in the Gay Pride parade but won’t say if he would perform a gay marriage.
According to the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay-rights advocacy group, the only citywide official who supports gay marriage is Comptroller William Thompson. Are you surprised that Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer weren’t heard from last week? Are you surprised that in the hip, modern, sophisticated, “live and let live” city of New York, we have yet to settle this issue?
The gay-marriage folderol resembles the tap dance on abortion that some liberals perform: They say they “personally oppose abortion,” but they promise to uphold abortion rights. That was the standard line of former Governor Mario Cuomo, among others. He said he would not impose his morality on others.
For this, he and others were hailed as heroic figures. No, a heroic figure would have said: “I oppose abortion and I will work to change the law.” Mr. Cuomo, after all, was not so reluctant about imposing his morality when he annually vetoed a death-penalty bill because he personally opposed capital punishment. Try, if you will, to imagine Martin Luther King saying he did not want to “impose” his moral views on others.
The homophobia that underlies the gay-marriage issue is cleverly covered with a veneer of religion. But some-like another Republican moral leader of our country, Gen. Colin Powell from the Bronx-occasionally let the cat out of the bag: He told Ted Koppel in 1993 that the real issue with gays in the military was that “we have to shower together.” Uh-huh. Mr. Koppel gave General Powell a pass by not asking the obvious question: “So which is it, General: Are you afraid of them or are you afraid of yourself?”
On that promising summer day so long ago, President Kennedy pulled no punches: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”
And that should be our answer to the zealots who seek to impose their values for no other reason than that they find the concept of gay marriage personally repulsive.
Too bad for them. They’ll have to get over it.