‘Might and Muscle’ and Marriage

Posted on June 26th, 2011

This morning as Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, and their allies celebrate their victory in winning the legalization of same-gender marriage in New York, our own thoughts are with the losers — that is, with the religious communities in the city and state. They fought for their beliefs with dignity and courage, and this newspaper, for one, has come to believe that, while there are many fine people on both sides, religious New Yorkers had the better part of valor in this fight. There is no doubt that they are the losers in this exchange.

It is true that many on the conservative side, ourselves included, have long asserted that the right venue in which to sort this question out is not the courts but the legislature. Neither is there doubt that the governor led a brilliant campaign to sway the Senate in Albany. The story was partly about “shifting public sentiment and individual lawmakers moved by emotional appeals from gay couples who wish to be wed,” as Michael Barbaro reported in a dispatch in the New York Times.

“But, behind the scenes,” Mr. Barbaro went on to write, “it was really about a Republican Party reckoning with a profoundly changing power dynamic, where Wall Street donors and gay-rights advocates demonstrated more might and muscle than a Roman Catholic hierarchy and an ineffective opposition,” as well as, we would add, the Orthodox Jewish institutions. Mr. Barbaro reported that of a group of hedge fund captains, including at least one who is a one-time backer of the Sun and a friend, poured millions of dollars into the campaign to pass Mr. Cuomo’s bill.

It was also about a Democratic Party that was prepared to engage in ugly tactics, accusing the religious camp of bigotry. The Times itself, in an editorial belittling the defenders of traditional marriage, once bruited the language of a Massachusetts court suggesting the ban on same-gender marriage was “simply about prejudice” and likening religious law to the odious statues against inter-racial marriage that were struck down in Loving v. Virginia. Yet, we pointed out in an editorial, the prohibitions against interracial marriage had, despite the jackleg preachers, no basis whatsoever in the laws brought down by Moses.

Governor Andrew Cuomo himself attributed to “stunning homophobia” the statement of religious views on same-gender marriage that his opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Carl Paladino, had just shared with the Satmar Chasidim in Williamsburg. More recently Mayor Bloomberg compared the position of the religious camp in the marriage debate to that of those who defended slavery and opposed civil rights. So far as we can tell, no member of the camp advancing same-gender marriage spoke up to defend the religious camp against these libels.

That is a newsworthy default at a time when religion is under assault in the courts and politics of our country by an aggressively secular culture. The Catholic charities could be driven from providing foster care and adoption services in several states. Here in New York, religious guarantees were proffered by Albany only grudgingly and at the last moment. Religious concerns were never fully aired in proper legislative hearings where the various factions could make their cases in the open. At the rate things are going it is possible — hard, but possible — to imagine a day when that the Torah sages could feel unwelcome in a New York to which they once fled for protection.

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We don’t mind saying that we didn’t start out in the editorial line with the aim of picking up the cause of religion. Nor do we begrudge the joy many are feeling today or gainisay entirely the argument that the reach for marriage is an expression of conservative values. But it is shocking to us how the religious camp has been treated in this struggle. Years of newspapering have left us with the view that the laws promulgated in the light of Sinai are more inclusive and humane and, in the end, dispositive than the views of the victors in this struggle. We have little doubt that those who are savoring their triumph today will be treated by the religious camp more graciously and tolerantly than the religious camp has been treated by them.


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