Revolution #238, July 3, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in New York:

Righteous Celebrations in the Streets

On June 25, New York became the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. As the news broke, exuberant celebrations erupted in New York City. A thousand people gathered in and around the historic club in the West Village where the Stonewall Riots against police brutality against gays broke out in 1969. In New York City and beyond, many thousands more took to the streets to righteously celebrate this victory. There were powerful emotional outpourings, as couples who had lived together for decades, their relationships declared illegitimate by the government, finally could participate in a basic right to marry.

Marriage in this society is required for a whole range of rights, including visiting a partner in a hospital, inheriting property, obtaining insurance coverage, and obtaining legal immigration status for a partner. Denying these rights to a whole section of people is not unlike the days when “whites only” backed up by sheriffs and the KKK kept people of color out of bus station waiting rooms, voting booths, schools and hospitals.

Legalizing gay marriage in New York doubled the number of people who live in states where gay marriage is legal. It will, and should, give heart to everyone fighting for equal rights. A California activist fighting to overturn Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California told the L.A. Times, “We are beginning to see the dark walls of discrimination crumble.”

And yet same-sex marriage, with all the legal rights that are only available to those who qualify, remains illegal in almost 90 percent of the states in the USA. And laws banning same-sex marriage are but one of a whole range of laws, customs and prejudices that persecute lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people.

Beyond the basic justice of granting this element of equal rights to lesbians and gays, the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York reflects, and is a positive factor in changing attitudes in society towards LGBT people. Millions of people in this society, from adolescence to old age, are told in a million ways, from the church to the law, that there is something morally wrong with them and their relationships. The result is terrible and unnecessary pain and harm—ranging from giving a green light to gay bashing violence, to social ostracism and alienation.

The struggle against discrimination against LGBT people is taking place in the context of great changes in society—in culture, in the economy, in attitudes. An important factor in the concessions that have been made has been the growth of gay pride events, the emergence of new and rebellious attitudes among lesbian and gay people, and determined political protest, like the March on Washington of tens of thousands of gay rights protesters in October 2009.

The movement for equality for lesbians and gays is up against virulent defenders of “traditional morality”—reactionary Christian fundamentalist forces in particular. Each advance in the battle for equality has brought about vicious counter-attacks on gay rights. Most U.S. states have passed laws or constitutional amendments in recent years against gay marriage—often justified overtly on religious grounds and funded by religious organizations. Right after the passage of the New York law, Michele Bachmann—who is running for the Republican nomination for president—told Fox News she would support a federal constitutional amendment to overturn the New York law and similar laws in other states.

In New York, Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan called the legalization of same-sex marriage an “ominous threat.” But what, exactly, is threatened by this law? The New York law does not, of course, interfere with the right of men and women to marry each other. And yet, in a way, the legalization of same-sex marriage does undercut the legitimacy of at least some elements of “traditional morality.” And that is a good thing. “Traditional morality,” including the demonization, marginalization, and persecution of lesbians and gays, is a product of and serves oppressive, repressive social systems. In opposition to that, and as part of the radical changes this world cries out for, humanity needs a whole other morality that reflects and serves the struggle to end all oppression.

In different dimensions—in the battle for legal equality, and in challenging millennia of cruel persecution—the legalization of gay marriage in New York State represents an important concession by the powers-that-be. Still, there are powerful forces in society who would turn back the struggle. This law is something to righteously celebrate, and build on, in the ongoing struggle against discrimination against and persecution of lesbian and gay people, and battles to come.

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