Good Lord, how often is it the New York state legislature makes you proud?
The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 32-29 late Friday night to bring gay marriage to New York. The vote came after a long, messy week in which the Republicans fretted endlessly about whether Hasidic florists would be forced to provide flowers to gay weddings, but in the end, they came through and actually did something that was cutting edge and at least a little bit brave. Can't remember the last time that happened.
There was that time in 1970 -- I wasn't actually here, but I've been told -- that the lawmakers passed a groundbreaking abortion rights law. The bill seemed doomed to lose on a tie vote in the House until George Michaels, who represented a conservative upstate district, rose and announced, near tears, that he was voting yes. "I realize I am terminating my political career, but I cannot in good conscience sit here and allow my vote to be the one that defeats this bill," he said.
Michaels was right about his political career. It's not really likely anyone in the state Senate will have to make that kind of sacrifice. The public is way ahead of the pols on this one.
But maybe you could argue that the 2011 George Michaels was Senator Roy McDonald of Saratoga, a Republican who was the first to announce that he was changing his vote to "yes."
"Well, fuck it, I don't care what you think. I'm trying to do the right thing," he told reporters. It wasn't "Give me liberty or give me death," but it was very Albany.
Playing the part usually reserved for the Archbishop of New York was the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, who penned an opinion piece claiming that the legislature was behaving like the government of North Korea, a comparison that seemed to smack of a bit of desperation.
It's easy to overestimate the amount of political courage it required for former opponents to flip on this highly charged issue. (Queens Democrat Carl Kruger would have found it hard to maintain his anti-gay-marriage stance once it was revealed that he shares his own home with two male gynecologists and their mother.)
Wavering lawmakers were given polls showing that their constituents wanted the bill to pass. Even more important, wealthy Republican donors promised financial support for gay marriage backers.
But there's never going to be a danger that New Yorkers would overestimate the virtues of their state legislators. This is the rare, rare moment when we get to acknowledge that they actually have some. Good for them. And good for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for making this a top priority and figuring out how to push the gay marriage bill through.
It's a big, big deal. The country is ready to acknowledge the right of gay couples to marry. For young people, it's a no-brainer. For those of us who are older, a lifetime of experience has taught us that gay Americans are our friends, our neighbors, our relatives, and maybe our children. But change has been thwarted by the structure of our politics, which give disproportionate strength to tiny slivers of voters.
We needed some stalwart lawmakers to break the jam. Who would have imagined we'd find them in Albany?