Today, June 24, 2011, New York became the sixth state in the republic to provide marriage equality whether a couple is heteroamorous or homoamorous when their State Senate voted 33-29 for the bill. Previous states that have provided marriage equality include Massachussets, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon also allow the same rights. The population of these original five states equals 15.63 million American citizens. New York adds another 19.3 million people, more than doubling the number of citizens who now have complete freedom to marry the partner of their choice.
It is a momentous day because New York has shown that men and women of conscience can come together in honest debate and negotiation to structure a plan that works for all its citizens. There were compromises on both sides of the equation, but the whole is what truly matters. The New York legislature was wise enough to ensure that this bill did not affect religious organizations and their ability to choose the couples they would join. This has nothing to do with religion. It is a state issue of equality. The small details of their compromises will barely be remembered, but the wedding day that joined Dad and Papa, or Mom and Mama, will be just as important to their children as my parents’ wedding pictures are to me.
When my mother died, I went through her photographs. As the family historian, it fell on me to maintain these photos that included my parent’s wedding pictures from November 1956. As I wandered through the pages of this vibrant couple’s memories, neither of whom were now here to remember them, I recognized this as the starting point toward our family.
Now, the children of LGBT couples will be able to have the same memories as straight couples do. It is as important to them as it is to me. My wedding pictures with my now ex-wife, Barbara, from 1977 are still as beautiful as the photos of my marriage to my husband, David, in 2006.
As we celebrate this victory for equal rights in our country, we must also ask ourselves who is next? Which state next will take the appropriate actions to ensure that 100% of American citizens will see in their lifetimes a nation that will not leave anyone behind regarding equality. Equality is not limited to marriage. Equality must be pervasive in every area of our lives. If one individual does not have equal rights in our country, then none of us have equal rights. As it stands, some people continue to be offered more freedom than others. This cannot be what we mean by the beginning of the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence when the signateurs affirmed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
~ The Declaration of Independence (USHistory.org, 1776)
Since May 17, 2004, when Massachussets became the first state in the Union to finally attain freedom for all regarding marriage, our country has been on a trek toward consistency. Eventually, marriage equality will become the law of the nation, and our descendants will raise their eyebrows when their history teachers tell them that at one time, gay people couldn’t get married. As I’ve seen firsthand as a classroom teacher, this same response occurs when the young people are told that at one time Blacks and Whites were not allowed to marry. We do not call marriage between mixed-race couples anything other than marriage. That is the way it will be in the years to come about marriage for same-sex couples. It will simply be marriage.
In many ways, our country is like a majestic redwood; no matter how much shade is in our way, we always stretch toward the light. Today, we have stretched a little bit higher toward that light.
“2010 Resident Population Data” (2010) U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved June 24, 2011 f
USHistory.org (1999) “The Declaration of Independence.” USHistory.org. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.