Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Marriage Equality, Part I

The past week has set a record in New York State for weddings.  According to news media reports, 46 couples were united in marriage at a joint ceremony at Niagara Falls last Sunday.  About  100 other couples did the same last Monday at Long Island’s Bethpage State Park.  Town clerks all around the State have been busily engaged in processing applications for marriage licenses.
The rush of marital business was triggered by a change in State law.  It marked the first week in which applicants could take advantage of the newly adopted Marriage Equality Act.   That measure removed a restriction on eligibility to earn the status, and the benefits, of being, in the eyes of the law, married.  It conferred eligibility to obtain marital legal status on couples who are of the same sex.  It made New York the sixth State, and the most populous one, to give legal sanction to same-sex marriage.  (The other States are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont; plus the District of Columbia) And it prompted hundreds of homosexual couples to seize the opportunity. 
First among the GreeneLand couples were Sam Aldi and Michael DeBenedictus.  On Sunday (7/31), in their sunlit Catskill garden, before scores of friends and relatives, with Village Justice William Wooton presiding, they sealed a bond whose durability had already been proved over the past 40 years. 
The Marriage Equality Act won adoption after strenuous controversy, especially in the State Senate.  Its passage there, by a vote of 33 to 29, marked a reversal of fortune for a similar measure that went down to defeat, 24 to 38, back in 2009.   
Some features of the marriage equality controversy deserve comment.

MEDIA BIAS?  Devotees of the “liberal bias” thesis concerning our mainstream news media can draw a mite of support from one aspect of how the Marriage Equality drama was covered.  While giving prominence to the pivotal role played by the senators who reversed their previous opposition, the reports did not immediately identify the ‘defectors.’ Neither did they do so when reporting the prospect of an organized political retaliation against on the defectors. Thus, in a long Associated Press story (published in the Daily Freeman under headline “Gay marriage foes target 7 senators who flipped”) readers are told that “The four Republicans and three Democrats who changed their votes or positions were key in Friday’s 33-29 vote.”  But in the course of 17 paragraphs, only two of those ‘flippers’ were named.  That example is representative of what occurred in print and on screen.  The omissions do not make sense professionally.  They can be cited plausibly as evidence that the responsible journalists chose more less consciously to give those defectors a bit of protection.
        The pivotal Republican senators were Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, Roy J. McDonald of the Capital Region, James Alesi of Monroe County and Stephen Saland of Columbia County (and other counties).  The switching Democrats were Joseph Addabbo, Carl Kruger, and Shirley Huntley, who represent districts in New York City.
SILENT SENATORS.  In their dealings with the Marriage Equality Act, New York’s senators differed not only in how they voted, but also in how they addressed the subject.  The main contrast here is between something and nothing.  Senator Grisanti accompanied his affirmative vote with a speech acknowledging his change of position, and he put a video of that event on his official senatorial web site.  Senator McDonald gave a cryptic statement to The Daily News (“fuck it”; “trying to do the right thing”) but no trace of that event appears on his web site.  Similarly, the search word “marriage” yields nothing on Senator Alesi’s web site, and yet, tucked next to his “Community Update” of June 24 (distributed to all local papers) is a video in which he speaks at a marriage equality rally, anticipates being (by alphabetical order) the first Republican senator  to vote on the impending bill, rates his vote as “the most important thing I can do in my 20-year career as a legislator,” and anticipates the loss of “what I thought were a lot of good friends.”  As for Senator Saland, the last of the Republican “turncoats,” he spoke on the Senate floor and addressed the issue on his web site (while declining to be the focus of national media interviews).  He spoke of the stress of clashing loyalties to the traditional conception of marriage and to equality of rights. He also emphasized the “religious exemptions” that he and others had managed to  include in the 2011 act, as distinct from the 2009 version.  www.nysenategov/senator/stephen-m-saland/marriageequality.
Senator Saland’s territorial neighbors and fellow Republicans, James Seward (representing GreeneLand, among other counties) and John Bonacic (Ulster and other nearby counties) took a different course.  While voting Nay on the Marriage Equality Act, they refrained from addressing the subject. They kept mum.  On their web sites, with sections devoted to Issues, with all press releases and public statements listed, nothing about marriage occurs.  Both of those senators (and many others) did post video statements evaluating the 2011 legislative session.  Both gave the session high marks.  “Good news,” says Senator Seward; “Albany is functioning again,” and even “better” days for New Yorkers can be expected, thanks to measures lately adopted by the legislators.  It’s been a “good year,” says Senator Bonacic; and “things will get better and better.”  Their readers would not know that the legislative session ended with a bothersome, controversial, emotion-laden, dramatic debate about marriage.
Also mum on the subject were the down-State Democrats who supported the Marriage Equality Act after opposing the earlier version. They issued no statements, submitted to no interviews.  In two cases, however—Senators Huntley and Kruger--the search word “marriage” does yield material on official web sites.  The material in each case is a press release dating from December 2009.  Each release explains the senator’s vote against the proposed Marriage Equality Act.  Each explanation consists of affirming that the senator’s constituents clearly, firmly oppose the granting of marriage rights to same-gender couples. 

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