An Appeal For Civility in the Marriage Debate

Assembly Member Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, wrote the following letter to the editor, dated April 13, 2004. Glick is responding to a letter printed in Gay City News on April 5, 2004, that was written by Andrew Miller, an advocate of same-sex marriage, in which Miller criticizes marriage-related legislation Glick plans to introduce in the state Assembly.

Mr. Miller (Letters, April 5, 2004) is as ignorant of my history as a legislator as he is of the history of civil rights movements in this country. For his information, I am now— and have been since its introduction—a co-sponsor of the marriage equality legislation pending in the New York State Assembly.

Unfortunately, neither the “gay marriage” bill, nor my own proposed civil union bill, is likely to pass either house of the state legislature in the foreseeable future. Indeed, it is more probable that the courts will act upon one of the pending lawsuits that challenge discrimination in the marriage laws before one of the pending bills passes. In the meantime, it is crucial for our community to engage in the broadest possible discussion about what is clearly the most important issue we have faced together. Personalized attacks, like those leveled by Mr. Miller at me, can only have the effect of stifling that dialogue and dividing our community.

Perhaps I recognize the danger of divisive rhetoric more than some, as it took my first three years in Albany, as the first and only openly lesbian/gay state legislator, to get the sexual orientation non-discrimination bill passed in the Assembly. It took another ten years—in fact, until the end of 2002—for that bill to pass in the state Senate.

My current proposed legislation is intended to neutralize the “religious” aspect of the religious right’s argument against marriage equality, by requiring all couples, same-sex and opposite-sex, to have a civil ceremony, before any religious ceremony. In other words, under my bill what is not acceptable is a two-tier system in which same-sex couples get “separate, but equal” treatment.

The separation of church and state is a vital principle to our democracy and it is in the best long-term interests of the LGBT community to reassert this principle. What we don’t want is for those determined to erase that separation to use the struggle for gay marriage as a rationale to accomplish their goal. I have been heartened to hear from those who understand and support my approach.

My effectiveness as a legislator, and the respect I have earned for that effectiveness, is based on my ability to work with many parties, including people in leadership. If Mr. Miller wants to dismiss my perspective as “feminist rhetoric,” that’s his prerogative. However, his bald reference to Speaker Silver’s religion is deeply troubling. If we object to religious intolerance, we ourselves cannot embrace it as a tactic.

History has taught us that successful civil rights movements in this country have employed many parallel efforts in order to reach their goals. These efforts may include demonstrations, legislation, litigation, and civil disobedience, to mention a few. There is no one right method. In fact, those suing the state on the basis that current law already allows for same-sex marriage could argue that their case is undermined by the original marriage equality bill, since that bill arguably suggests that the legislature must change the law in order to allow for same-sex marriage.

Our community is diverse with many viewpoints. The truth is that we will have to try many different strategies in order to ensure our full equality.

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