Jun 282011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

In a move quite befitting national Pride Month, New York became the sixth state to legally recognize marriage between same-sex couples. After passing the state’s Republican-controlled Senate by a 33-29 margin, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the same-sex marriage bill into law last Friday.

New York joined Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont as the only states that fully recognize gay marriage. With its population of about 19 million people, New York’s new law effectively doubles the number of people nationwide who live in such a region.

“New York sends the message that marriage equality across the country is a question of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’” said Fred Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Traditionally, socially conservative Republicans have blocked the advancement of gay rights at every turn. However, the nearly unanimous opposition to equal marriage rights within the GOP seems to be slowly shifting.
“There is an important change going on among Republicans and conservatives,” said Kenneth B. Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Indeed, this is the first time a Republican-controlled legislative body in any state has supported same-sex marriage or civil unions. This fact has energized gay rights activists who see the victory as a momentum-changing development in the push for marriage equality on a national level.

When looking at the most recent Gallup Poll data, there’s definitely reason for optimism among equal rights advocates. Conducted last May, the survey found that 53 percent of Americans believe that our laws should recognize same-sex unions. The poll marks the first time that Gallup has found a majority of Americans behind such measures.

Not surprisingly, support for marriage equality is strongest among those between the ages of 18 and 34, and weakest among people 55 and older. In light of this fact, the eventual acceptance of gay marriage all across America seems like an inevitability. It’s refreshing to see some Republicans starting to come to terms with this simple reality.

“Eventually we have to have one standard of justice in this country and establish that sexual orientation is not a basis for discrimination,” said Mary Bonauto, an attorney who has dedicated the last 20 years to fighting for marriage equality.

Illinois, Hawaii and Delaware have all recently approved civil unions, joining California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington as states that provide gay couples with extensive marriage-like rights.

Adding those eight states to the six that now allow gay marriage, more than a third of Americans now live in states where gay couples can attain the same rights and responsibilities of marriage afforded to heterosexual couples. A mere decade ago, there weren’t any states that granted such rights.

Despite all these signs of progress, gay marriage and civil unions remain a highly contentious national issue. In fact, 30 states (including Colorado) have passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, with another proposed amendment on the ballot in Minnesota in 2012.

Some of the states adamantly opposed to gay marriage are a bit more open to the idea of civil unions. While I agree that civil unions are better than nothing, we should be wary of any ideas that supports the concept of “separate but equal.” We tried that concept out in our embarrassingly not-too-distant history, and it didn’t quite work out too well for certain segments of the population.

The existence of overwhelming support from a young, energized movement at political odds with an aging and fearful opposition closely mirrors the scenario from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

If conservatives want to be on the right side of history, they’ll need to reconsider their stance.

Joe Vajgrt is a senior journalism major who doesn’t care what you do or who you do it with. His column appears sporadically over the summer in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com

 Posted by at 12:20 pm

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