I’m sitting here, prouder to be a New Yorker than I have been in a long time. No, we didn’t get a new theme store in Times Square. The Mets didn’t do anything remarkable, and the Yankees haven’t been traded to Guam. But Friday night, we achieved marriage equality within my state.
Watching the state senate vote yes on same sex marriage was one of those rare, special moments when you know you’re witnessing history. Even rarer, because you know you’re witnessing history in a good way, not watching events like Columbine or 9/11 unfold on TV. It was like hearing Jon Stewart call the election in favor of Obama, or seeing the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t witnessed that much history.
But Friday night was enough. Sitting and watching anxiously with my roommates, after convincing one of them that Anchorman on TNT could wait. (I mean, we have three copies on DVD.) Trying not to get our hopes up, but saying things like, “I think it’s actually going to happen.”
And then it did! Celebratory ciders all around, victory shouts heard throughout the neighborhood, and it was as if things had always been this way. “Remember way back this morning, when same sex couples couldn’t get married? Weird.”
Of course, there were some downers. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., mostly. I took a drink every time he was asked to wrap up his rambling speech, which was the only thing that got me through it. It contained such gems as, “God, not Albany, set the definition of marriage.” I would say he should stay at his church, not in Albany, if he really feels that way, but unfortunately his church is located in the Bronx. We don’t want him. Though it is gratifying to watch him be left behind by history. It’s nice to think of him being remembered as an even less effective George Wallace of this civil rights movement, an embarrassment to his family and district.
There were others, most notably Senator Grisanti, who really summed up not only being a good politician, but also a pretty decent person. Grisanti’s speech essentially stated that, though he was raised to personally believe that same sex marriage was wrong, he had to separate this from his work and recognize that all people were deserving of fair and equal treatment.
My social work sense was tingling the entire time.
It doesn’t make everything perfect. We don’t have full equality and acceptance, things aren’t magically better. This is one step, a massively important step, towards inclusivity.
I am already excited for the way that this affects not only the lives of my friends, family, and all New Yorkers, but for how it affects my work as well.
A lot of the LGBT people we work with are young, struggling with their identity, and dealing with being only marginally accepted, or outright rejected, by their families and communities. Some social workers I know, particularly workers I met in
Japanese Game Show social work school who fancied themselves the Most Out Of The Box Left Thinking Social Worker There Ever Was, talked about marriage equality as an issue of privilege. Something that didn’t matter to a homeless teen.
But people who say that are kidding themselves. The right to marry might not mean a whole lot to a teenager recently kicked out of his parents home and struggling to make it day to day. But living in a state that grants that teenager his basic rights and recognizes him as a full citizen counts for a lot. Just listen to couples who have been together for ten, twenty, fifty years, talk about what marriage means to them. Being recognized as a legitimate couple and family, having equal rights…that’s good for everyone.
I certainly hope that, if I had been around during the 1960s civil rights movement, George Wallace and other segregationists would have pissed me off just as much as Ruben Diaz did. Because stripping people of their rights and humanity goes against our values, personally and professionally.
As social workers, and decent people, we need to keep fighting for equality. And we also need to celebrate this victory.
Cider’s on me!