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Monday, June 27, 2011

"It has gotten personal now"

The "Monday morning quarterbacking" has begun on the landmark, historic, sea-changing vote for Marriage Equality in New York.

An article in the NY Times makes it pretty clear that Governor Andrew Cuomo made it happen by bringing together an unlikely coalition of forces.

Yes, he brought together a group of super-rich Republican donors to meet with two of his top advisers who explained that the Governor was determined to legalize same-sex marriage on his watch.

The strategy was to convince these donors that they had "the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views".

NYT photo: Gov Cuomo signing the bill into law
Yes, the Governor also brought together five Queer activist organizations, who, he told them, had lost the 2009 bid by their rampant infighting and disorganization. Mr. Cuomo organized them into one coalition, "New Yorkers United for Marriage," and told them that he would be personally involved in their management.

“You can either focus on the goal, or we can spend a lot of time competing and destroying ourselves,” the governor said.

And, yes, with this Governor, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. His father, and former Governor, Mario Cuomo, rose to national prominence as the conscience of the Democratic Party, passionately defending the poor and assailing the death penalty.

In his first year as Governor, the younger-Mr. Cuomo had achieved what seemed like modern-day miracles by the standards of Albany — an austere on-time budget and a deal to cap property taxes.
But, as Mr. Cuomo explained by phone to his father a few weeks ago, he did not want those accomplishments to define his first year in office.

“They are operational,” he told his father. Passing same-sex marriage, by contrast, “is at the heart of leadership and progressive government.”

“I have to do this.”
And, yes, his strategy with the very powerful, influential Roman Catholic archdiocese was also a piece of how Mr. Cuomo made it happen.
When he learned that church leaders had objected to the language of the marriage legislation, he invited its lawyers to the Capitol to vent their frustration.

Mr. Cuomo even spoke to Archbishop Dolan about the push for same-sex marriage, emphasizing his respect and affection for the religious leader. An adviser described the governor’s message to Archbishop Dolan this way: “I have to do what I have to do. But your support over all is very important to me.”
NYT photo: Gov. Cuomo before the vote
Keen political insight and strategy.

Solid coalition building and community organizing.

Effective management and leadership.

Keeping church and state separate.

Political ambition.


Yes, yes, yes. All of these were the ingredients to a recipe for success. First, you begin with electing a Governor who will be supportive to your cause. (AKA "Preheat the oven to 350 and assemble all ingredients")

Other organizers and activists in other states, please take note.

However, I want to offer another aspect of 'most this amazing' law, because I don't believe Mr. Cuomo would have been effective without it.

It's the power of family.

Yes, Mr. Cuomo had campaigned on the issue of marriage equality in the race for governor last year. After his election, he was reportedly "staggered by the number of gay couples who sought him out at restaurants and on the street, prodding him, sometimes tearfully, to deliver on his word".

At the end of the day, however, it wasn't just Queer families who were the decisive ingredient. No, it was the families of the Governor, the Senators, and the Republican donors who provided the "secret ingredient" to this recipe for success.

Billionaire Paul Singer, who was one of the major Republican contributors to the Marriage Equality Campaign, has a son who is gay.

Mr. Cuomo’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee, has an openly gay brother. Apparently, she frequently reminded the governor how much she wanted the law to change.

Democratic Senator Carl Kruger from Brooklyn, had voted against same-sex marriage two years ago. The gay nephew of the woman he lives with, Dorothy Turano, was so furious at Mr. Kruger for opposing same-sex marriage that he had cut off contact with both of them, devastating Ms. Turano.

“I don’t need this,” Mr. Kruger told Senator John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democratic majority leader. “It has gotten personal now.”
Mr. Sampson, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage, advised Mr. Kruger to focus on the nephew, not the political repercussions. “When everything else is gone,” Mr. Sampson told him, “all you have left is family.”
Let me just repeat that so we don't miss its significance:
“When everything else is gone, all you have left is family.”
This is precisely why so many Queer people remained in the closet for so many years. This is the reason so many will remain in the closet, even in the midst of a sea-change that is happening in our national conscience.

When faced with exclusion or expulsion by our families of origin, many of us have decided - and will continue to decide - that "When everything else is gone, all you have left is family."

When that is supported and compounded by judgment, exclusion and expulsion from our religious communities of faith, even cracking open the closet door requires courage of Herculean proportions.

This is why so many of us in "God's Rainbow Tribe" are so devoted to the concept of inclusion.

Indeed, this is the reason so many of us have created our own "families of choice" - both in terms of the trust and intimacy we share with people who are not our "blood-kin".

It is also the impulse to create our own families, adopting or having our own biological children or taking in foster children - the kids no one else wants.

And, when we choose not to have children, our four-legged friends become full members of our family circle, as cherished and loved as any child.

Queer people value families - perhaps more so than those who take them for granted because it's all so "normal" and "natural" for them. You don't often cherish something until it is threatened.

I remember a brief conversation I had many years ago with Otis Charles, retired Bishop of Utah and former President and Dean of The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He was also the first bishop to come out of the Lavender Closet in the House of Bishops, which he did after his retirement.

As I recall, we were standing on a street in Denver, CO, where General Convention was meeting that year. Otis said, "I remember clearly the morning we were taking the vote on the ordination of women. Elvira (his then wife), abruptly opened the shower door and said, 'Before you vote today, I want you to remind all your brother bishops that, at the end of the day, they will be coming home to their wives'".

"That," he said, "made the difference. At the end of this day, no one will be going home to face a spouse or even a family member who is gay."

Not so much anymore.

The Queer Community has taken the Religious Right's mantra of "family values" and turned it around to one that understands the value of families.

It's a powerful concept, one that is a force with which we are just now beginning to reckon in all of its political implications.

At the end of the day, I believe that it was the politics of family which opened hearts and minds as well as check books and helped to craft effective political organizing and strategy.

God Bless Governor Cuomo and all the legislators and activists - past and present - who made this landmark and historic vote happen.

May God also bless our families of whatever variety and constellation.

Families are the chief building blocks of any culture or society.

It is within those family structures that living, breathing, thriving cultural monuments to justice and mercy, peace and compassion are built.

"It has gotten personal now".

'Personal is political' - as we used to say in the early days of the feminist movement - and the politics of family is always personal.

It has ever been thus.

It's just that now we know it better than we ever did.

And, as we like to say in God's Rainbow Tribe, love not only makes a family, it changes everything.

You can't get much more personal - or political - than that.


Anonymous said...

So if I understand this right, "Democratic Republican" (?) State Senator Kruger changed his vote because of money and pressure from his shack-up's nephew?

"When everything else is gone, all you have left is family.”

Interesting. Jesus had something to say on that issue: Luke 12:49-52for starters.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sorry, Michael. I've changed that. Kruger is a Democrat.

If you search the bible for a single definition of 'family' or 'marriage' you will search in vain.

"Shacked up"? Not very charitable of you. I think Jesus had lots to say about that.

He also had something to say about 'divorce' - which, other than the Romans, every other church, including the Orthodox, allow.

Interesting, indeed, Michael. (Psst. If you hadn't heard or read it before, Jesus also said, "Call no man father.")

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, Elizabeth...
I't disappoints and disturbs me that the first response to your lovely meditation is an attack on somebody's family - because they are different. But more to the point, the subject is a somebody that the writer does not know. Thus driving home one of you points in no uncertain terms.

I am heartened that in the face of some pretty heavy-handed attacks, a sufficient number of legislators from both sides of the aisles said "yes" to the value of families.

Lou Poulain
Sunnyvale CA

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

That's because it's so very personal, Lou. The church has always tried to insert itself into "body politics". I'm grateful that Michael ("call no man father") has proven my point (as you say) - and has done it so decisively.

I think this stuff makes Jesus weep.

Matthew said...

If only Senator Diaz could see that like Kruger that he is ripping apart his entire family on this issue. There was a spectacle some weeks ago back and forth in the media between him and a neice. One wonders what value one places on family (or love) when one has to attack ones own family in public. And when the attacked have to attack back just to claim a sense of their own dignity. Fortunately some are not so blind.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I missed that exchange between Diaz and his niece. I'm sorta glad I did. Airing dirty family laundry in public - no matter what the issue - is never attractive.

I have a feeling, having watched Diaz on live stream video last Friday, that this is not a man with whom to reason much less argue. It's all about him.

Daniel Weir said...

I recall being asked at an anti-oppression conference in 1997 to think about the things that I enjoyed that my LGBT friends couldn't. The one that brought tears to my eyes was our wedding. Marriage equality is not a reality everywhere, but we are making progress.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Dan. That's a perfect example of how personal is political and political is personal.

Mark said...

I am happy that marriage equality is gaining ground...that many who have not been able to enjoy the social protections and benefits of marriage are now able. Looking ahead, marriage equality will mean that married persons using medically assisted reproduction in order conceive (and in some instances carry a child to term), must consider something like the 'equality of children'.

Many donor conceived persons are denied knowledge of their genetic parent(s). American society is undecided whether this knowledge should be preserved and provided. Groups (and nations) here and there recognize that donor conceived (like adoptees) have a basic right to define themselves from their historical beginnings.
Self-definition should be allowed to begin from specific people, with names and histories, and who live within a definable context.

The family is both biological and social. Social families (e.g. with adopted children or donor conceived) may provide many goods for flourishing life. Recognizing ancestors, origins, and experiencing the next generation in relation to ancestry, remains embedded in our and many cultures. The physicality of existence still matters.

Society and the church needs to consider donor conceived and adopted children especially in respect of their histories and roots. Families are changing today and they must change more in the future. Some families will have to include more than one 'father' or 'mother'...and new sibling arrangements. Names too often kept secret should be released - to families.

We are only beginning to see the changes ahead. Marriage equality means that more couples who want families and who will use medically assisted reproduction should think of the equality of children as well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - I get your point which I think has great validity but I don't think it has much to do with marriage equality. In my experience, more single, heterosexual women and married couples use donor sperm to conceive than Queer couples who adopt, more often than not. Insemination and in vitro fertilization is very expensive. The predominance of Queer people - especially lesbians - are in the helping professions and do not make that kind of money.

Most Queer people who have their own biological children usually work out some arrangement for donated sperm and a syringe or turkey baster (no joke) - or plan to share custody and parental responsibility between two moms and two dads.

Indeed, the people making money from marriage equality are the IRS, local and state governments and those associated with the "marriage industry".

Besides, the assumption that marriage equality automatically assumes that there will be children is based on a heterosexual model that is less and less applicable today. I can't tell you how many heterosexual couples I've counseled in pre-marital sessions in the last five years where the couple says, "Kids? Maybe. Maybe one. Probably not."

That being said, I agree with you that children who are adopted or conceived by insemination or IVF should have access to information about their ancestry - if for nothing else but for future medical concerns.

Anonymous said...

Jesus was quite clear in Mark 10 what constitutes marriage, clearing up whatever ambiguities remained from the Jews' more primitive days in the Old Testament. Note that the Jews had, for the most part, realized by the time of Christ that monogamy was indeed God's plan. Good for them!

The current redefinition efforts represent a return to paganism, even though most classic pagans would gag on the current absurdity.

FMichael (removing the offending "r")

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael, Michael, Michael - you poor baby - marriage equality is not a 'return to paganism'. It's about civil rights AND religious freedom.

You've been spending too much time over in Viagraville where Fr. Matt has written a predictable (and predictably laughable) "letter" to someone who was struggling with Marriage Equality.

You know, you can use scripture to prop up whatever biblical argument you want and from my end, I could do the same thing. I've learned, at the end of the day, that we'll just keep talking right past each other.

The bottom line is this: Marriage Equality a civil right AND a 'religious freedom'.

Don't want to marry a person of the same sex? You don't have to. Don't want to preside at the marriage of two people of the same gender? You don't have to.

However, your religious beliefs can not impinge on my religious beliefs nor the religious beliefs of others. Neither can my religious beliefs impinge on your religious beliefs or the religious beliefs of others.

This is a civil right. DOMA is indefensible. NY was a sea change. The tide is turning. Get used to it.

walter said...

What an interesting self-Affirming distinction, Elizabeth – Religious Experience versus Public Life – Happy New Family. Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and the prophets, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns in unity with God and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you.