In the early morning of June 28, 1969—just after 3 a.m.—a posse of plainclothes cops raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar at 53 Christopher Street in Manhattan’s Village. The cops’ pretext: the bar was selling liquor illegally. That was bogus. It was just another night of gay harassment. There were 200 people in the bar. They were evicted. On the street, they grew to 400. They’d had enough. They threw bricks, bottles and garbage at the cops. They rioted again the next night. Cops charged the rioters several times, beat and clubbed them as if Manhattan’s Sheridan Square area had turned into a Bull Connor corner of Alabama. The Stonewall Inn’s shattered windows were boarded up and covered in graffiti: “Support gay power.” “Legalize gay bars.”
The gay movement was born.
At 10:30 p.m. Friday, the Republican-majority New York Senate voted 33 to 29 to legalize gay marriage, making New York the largest state by far to ratify the most important and belated civil right since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. New York joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia in that minority of civilized states where gays and lesbians are no longer treated as second-class citizens, and where the religious establishment is no longer allowed, hideously and unconstitutionally, to dictate doctrine and discrimination.
There’ll be a time in the future when people will look back at the barbed-wired bans on gay marriage in place today and wonder how this nation, so big on liberty and rights, could have suffered idiotic bigotry on such a scale for so long. Then again, this same nation was founded as much on the pretensions of the Declaration of Independence as it was on the repression of slaves, the genocide of Indians and the marginalization, until 1920, of women. American enlightenment has at times had the DNA of carob molasses.
So the question isn’t when will Florida and the rest of the union join the ranks of the civilized regarding gay marriage. That’s bound to happen. The question is how unnecessarily late Florida will choose to do so.
In 2004, 14.3 million people in 11 states, with combined majorities of 67 percent, voted in constitutional bans of one sort or another against gay marriage. Florida already had a ban in place in statute. Not content with that much explicit discrimination on the books, voters enshrined their intolerance in the constitution when 62 percent approved Amendment 2 in 2008, putting this medieval verbiage in a 21st century constitution: “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”
Where can such baseless assertions as marriage being the “legal union of only one man and one woman” have so much as a throb of credibility other than in the harebrained fictions of scriptures and other codes of cults that have, or should have, absolutely no bearing on the civil laws of civil society? Since when do scriptures dictate to constitutional principles? And how long will the U.S. Supreme Court allow these unconstitutional state amendments to fly in the face of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution? Civil unions aren’t the answer. That’s the separate-but-equal standard in play these days that gives gay-marriage opponents cover the same way Plessy v. Ferguson gave institutional racism a half century’s boost with its separate-but-equal slam on blacks. Astoundingly, Barack Obama still clings to the gay version of Plessy v. Ferguson, though he’s retreated from enforcing the crock of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and abolished the folly of the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell.
New York State is celebrating. We should celebrate along. There is nothing in gay marriage that offends anymore than straight marriage does, marriage itself—not the sexual nature of its participants—having its issues, often because of the religious shackles imposed on it: if there is a problem with marriage, let’s start with, for example, some churches’ and mosques’ and synagogues’ revolting impositions on women to submit to their husbands, to endure their violence, to defer to their judgments, to persist in the superstitious beliefs in patriarchy, which have as much validity as inherited or divine right.
But let’s also remember that in gay matters, Florida remains closer to Iran than to New York State. Florida pioneered the anti-gay movement with the likes of Anita Bryant and her war on gay adoption, a war finally ended only when Charlie Crist put an end to the charade last year. As the 2008 vote shows, Floridians revel in putting down en entire class of people behind the cloak of religious authority and its sickly, opportunistic twin: tradition. If it’s traditional to discriminate, to hurt, to hate, oppress, and in Florida it still is, it’s also just as traditional, in the American sense anyway, to revolt. New York State just did. Florida will, too, one day, though like a brigand clinging to his loot, Florida won’t do it willingly: the Supreme Court will drag it out of its backwardness, if it can still read the 14th Amendment.