Leader’s Message – “Human Rights for All: An Ethical Culture Imperative” – January 2010

At the last meeting of the National Leaders Council in October, our colleagues in the Social Justice Caucus, a small group dedicated to facilitating movement-wide activism, presented us with several proposals, among which we selected LGBTQ (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Questioning) rights for primary attention this year. This does not mean that we will ignore other issues. Indeed, the NLC Statement on Afghanistan is printed in this newsletter and, in preparation for 2011 activism, we have committed ourselves to study issues of Economic Justice during 2010. In our respective societies, we will continue to work fervently for other social justice issues, but will devote ourselves as a body to this important human rights issue.

At the end of the year, the New York State Legislature dealt LGBT rights a heavy blow when it voted down the marriage equality bill after years of nonstop work and advocacy from so many LGBT New Yorkers and their straight allies.

We should all pause and take a moment to allow ourselves to process the range of emotions we’re feeling about the vote. And yes, I expect one of those emotions you’re feeling is anger, because it’s certainly one I’m feeling right now. Losing a vote on civil rights is devastating; knowing that the majority of State Senators still believe that it’s acceptable to treat millions of New Yorkers as “less-than” or second-class citizens is morally repugnant. But according to the NYS Pride Agenda, of which NYSEC is a member (and I participate in its clergy group, Pride in the Pulpit), there were also some positive aspects to highlight:

  • We were able to do what practically no one else was able to do with a post-coup State Senate—get a debate and vote on a bill. Hard work and determination brought the bill to the floor without a predetermined final outcome. This is virtually unprecedented in the State Senate and many critics thought it would be impossible in such a tumultuous year. Getting an up-or-down vote was always going to be absolutely essential to the strategy because it was necessary to know where each of the 62 state senators stood on marriage equality.
  • When the vast majority of African-American and Latino State Senators voted in support of marriage equality, a blow was dealt to the shameful idea that communities of color somehow stand in the way of equality for same-sex couples. In fact, some of the most eloquent arguments during the Senate debate came from African-American and Latino legislators. These men and women articulated exactly why they believe that this is an important civil rights movement and that there is no excuse to continue discriminating against LGBT families when it comes to protections that the State of New York provides to its people.
  • During the two-and-a-half-hour debate, when we heard incredibly moving arguments from Senators in support of marriage equality, we heard only one argument from a Senator who opposes our right to marry. The other 37 Senators who voted “no” were silent during the entire debate, and the only time we heard anything from them was when they were forced to say the word “no” during the voice vote roll call.
  • The “no” votes were silent because every single argument that they could use had been taken away. Early on in this campaign the most common myths that opponents of marriage equality throw out when they argue were dispelled. With these arguments neutralized, opponents of marriage equality had nothing to say and could only vote “no” for nothing more than political reasons.

Now there is a clear roadmap to follow and work to be done. Join the entire Ethical Movement in the struggle for human rights for all.


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