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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 28, 2011

Same-sex marriage is a needed step on the road to recovery

We were in New York City on June 26 this year and we felt proud to be New Yorkers. It was just after state lawmakers had voted to legalize same-sex marriage, and it was the day of the gay pride march.

That annual march commemorates the Stonewall rebellion of June 27, 1969. Near the close of a decade that saw massive upheaval in America as protestors marched against the war in Vietnam and marched for civil rights for blacks, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York fought back. The night of June 27, police conducted a routine raid of the gay bar. The response was not routine; the gay men and lesbian women had had enough. They threw bricks and beer cans, and were beaten and arrested in return.

The modern gay pride movement was born.

Change has been incremental at best. We can see it in our state and in our town.

Fifteen years ago, we wrote about the call for the Guilderland High School principal, John Whipple, to resign. Why? Because he had allowed a school assembly by the Alliance for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students to “heighten awareness of the plight of gay and lesbian people” as the students put it.

Some of those same students had the courage to come out on the pages of our newspaper as they fought to be allowed to even form a club.

“Each year, we run an all-school assembly on diversity,” Whipple told us at the time. The year before the program was on racism.

“I did not feel this topic to be threatening,” Whipple said. “The message wasn’t any different than when we dealt with racism…The message was that people can be different and have a right to be different.”

One of the speakers at that assembly was Daniel O’Neal, a 1988 Guilderland graduate, who went on to graduate from Yale University, with honors, and serve in the Peace Corps. He spoke of how he was physically and psychologically abused at Guilderland for being gay. “I’m just like you are,” he said, “and I don’t deserve to be picked on.”

We advocated for civil rights for gay men and lesbians then as we do now.

Public understanding has grown since the Stonewall rebellion. “You take risks when you move forward,” John Whipple said those 15 years ago. “Some of the best learning takes place when you’re uncomfortable.” He was right.

New York has become the sixth, and the largest state, to legalize same-sex marriage, joining Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Connecticut.

In 2004, according to a Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent of New Yorkers supported same-sex marriage. This year, 58 percent support allowing same-sex couples to wed. The passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act turned on the consciences of a handful of Republican Senators who were courageous enough to break ranks and pass a measure that was defeated soundly two years before.

We commend them. No citizen should be denied a right as basic as marriage. Aside from the legal advantages — practical concerns that have been stressed over and over, like being allowed hospital visits, or discounted insurance for couples, or not paying as much inheritance tax — there is the profound joy that comes in having a union between two people publicly accepted and celebrated.

Just listen to what Shirley Spence and Leslie Graham have to say. After 12 years together, they were able to marry this week. It was a first at Guilderland Town Hall.

“Obviously, this doesn’t change our relationship,” Spence told our Guilderland reporter, Anne Hayden, “because we have been together so long, but it’s nice to be able to say that we’re married, and we have some rights.”

Getting married was like closing a circle for the couple, said Graham. “All people grow up and dream that they’ll fall in love, and get married, and have a nice wedding,” she said. “I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime, but I got a wedding.”

The couple, who live in Albany, chose to marry in Guilderland because they were impressed with the new marriage officer, Cindy Wadach. Town Clerk Rosemary Centi had served in the unpaid post for a decade but resigned after the law was passed. “I’m a Catholic,” she told us. “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”

We have no quarrel with those who resign from their posts because, after their election, their jobs now include performing acts to which they are morally opposed.

That leaves an opening for someone like Wadach to fill the role with enthusiasm. “We wanted her because she actually wanted to do it; it wasn’t something she just had to do,” said Spence.

“It’s about time for equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people,” said Wadach. “After all, love is love.”

We couldn’t have said it better, and we’re pleased New York State is forging on. On Tuesday, our attorney general challenged the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which redefined marriage for federal purposes to exclude same-sex unions that are valid under state law.

Eric Schneiderman filed papers in the case of Windsor v. United States, supporting Edie Windsor’s motion for summary judgment. Windsor was married in Canada in 2007 to her partner, Thea Spyer, who died two years later. The federal government, under the Defense of Marriage Act, refused to recognize the couple’s marriage and taxed the inheritance accordingly, which Windsor challenged.

Schneiderman, in his friend-of-the-court brief, argues that the federal law improperly intrudes on the traditional role of states in defining marriage and that it discriminates based on sexual orientation.

“My office will fight every day to defend the fundamental guarantee of equal protection under law for all New Yorkers,” the attorney general said in a statement.

Fight on!

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