The New York Times editorial on the New York legislature’s decision to redefine marriage on Friday night provides the same-sex marriage advocate’s preferred explanation of the outcome — four courageous Republican senators bucked their hide-bound party to strike a blow for civil rights.
The background stories on the vote now emerging give us reason to be skeptical of that narrative. One of the senators who switched to give Governor Cuomo his vote told the Village Voice: “It’s not our job to be moral, it’s our job to be functional as a legislature.” What “functional as a legislature” means is not entirely clear, but we get some hints in the stories that detail the money spent by gay marriage advocates (including some wealthy libertarians) and the power-play by the governor and gay-marriage advocates. One lobbyist said there was “a ‘limitless’ amount of lobbying dollars and campaign contributions from gay marriage advocates.” The New York Daily News provides the not-surprising news: “Gay marriage advocates said they expect money from same-sex groups to flow to the four not just as a thank you, but also as a message to Republicans nationally.” The cynical might even think that flow might have affected the decision to jump ship. One Republican who had run on his opposition to same-sex marriage had taken a clear “no” position on the bill just a few weeks before. Another thought the appropriate way to express his “evolution” on the issues was a vulgar and self-righteous rant. Perhaps a sincere, if misguided, conversion explains the switching, but Ockham’s razor suggests a combination of money and power can’t be discounted as the more likely explanation.
The NYT piece also tells us much about the religious-liberty exemption much touted as a justification for redefining marriage. Now that the bill is a done deal, the Times says there really was no need for an exemption since religious organizations are already protected by the First Amendment. They are probably wrong about that legally, since governments and activists have not hesitated to attack religious groups in court over same-sex unions, so even the very grudging exemption could be useful. The point is that the Times, and the activist groups for whom it speaks on the issue, believe they are not really giving anything of substance. Plus, the exemption does nothing to protect individuals (bed and breakfast owners, etc.) who are the most likely target of lawsuits. More enlightening is the Times’ characterization of the exemptions that did pass: “While some civil rights advocates are optimistic that these provisions are relatively minor, we are deeply troubled by their discriminatory intent. The whole purpose of this law should be to expand civil rights without shedding other protections in the process.” Translation: Religious freedom is just a fancy word for bigotry.
New York is helping us to see the true face of “marriage equality.”