Paving the Way for Equality

Wedding bells will soon be ringing in New York, thanks to the legislature’s historic passage of marriage equality which goes into effect on July 24. And the echoes of that victory are still being heard. Soon after the passage of the NY bill, Rhode Island legalized civil unions, joining the several other states that have done so. (Despite the fact that the Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, as well as support from independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, true marriage equality stalled in the face of opposition from M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, the president of the state senate. No surprise, she’s a Roman Catholic.)

The Rhode Island bill, though it’s a step in the right direction, is especially disappointing in how far it goes to appease bigots. It grants significant rights to same-sex couples under state law, but permits religious organizations to completely refuse to recognize them – thus allowing, for example, a Catholic hospital to block visitation rights or ignore care directives of a same-sex partner. With polls finding that broad majorities in Rhode Island support full equality, we can hope that these flaws will be corrected soon. (Note, however, that the Catholic church and other anti-gay groups are demanding that the bill be entirely repealed; even this small step is too much for them to tolerate.)

Meanwhile, as marriage equality takes effect in New York, we’re seeing something that made me happy: the inevitable
wave of resignations
from bigots working in state government who can’t stomach the thought of having to treat gay couples equally:

Laura L. Fotusky, the town clerk in Barker, N.Y…. drafted a letter to the Town Board and said she would resign on July 21, three days before same-sex marriage becomes legal, because she could not in good conscience issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

“I believe that there is a higher law than the law of the land,” she wrote. “It is the law of God in the Bible.”

If you believe in a god who wants you to hate, Ms. Fotusky, then more power to you, and good riddance! The only people who should serve in government are the ones who believe that all people deserve the full and equal protection of the law. If you want to take a stand for discrimination and prejudice, you should do it as a private citizen.

Seeing the homophobes resign en masse is, at least, an improvement over the tack they’ve taken in so many other states – the petulant stance that their religious beliefs excuse them from complying with the law. And to their great credit, New York state officials are taking a hard line on this and making it clear that a person’s religious beliefs don’t constitute a reason not to do their job:

On Long Island, the Nassau County district attorney, Kathleen M. Rice, sent a sternly worded letter to clerks last week, warning that they could be subject to criminal prosecution if they declined to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“I want to ensure that our local officials appreciate that there will be ramifications in our county for exercising a personal, discriminatory belief, rather than doing their job,” Ms. Rice said Tuesday.

“The law is the law; when you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose,” [Gov. Cuomo] said at an appearance in Manhattan, adding, “If you can’t enforce the law, then you shouldn’t be in that position.”

It’s not often you hear such clear words of common sense from elected officials. But with New York as an example and a trendsetter, we have good reason to hope we’ll hear similarly rational statements from more state governments in the near future.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    To the bigots submitting their resignations, I say — good riddance.

    Don’t let the screen door hit you in the ass on your way out.

    If only more of the legislators (state and federal) who can’t abide by our secular and godless Constitution or their oaths of office to uphold that secular and godless Constitution would follow suit.

  • Stacey Melissa

    Y’all can help strike back at the Catholic bigots who abandon kids rather than treat gay people fairly by chipping in to the Air Capital Skeptic’s fundraiser for the Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley. They are the charity that took over adoptions in their area when the Catholic charity quit in protest of new equality laws, but they need our help with funding for the extra caseload.

  • Hibernia86

    I didn’t hear much in the news about Rhode Island legalizing civil unions. I guess in a way that is a good thing: people see it as normal enough not to give it much attention.

  • Andrew T.

    It’s nice to see the bigots admit that their book of fairy tales provides the only excuse they have for discriminating against gay and lesbian people.

  • http://www.makingsenseoffaith steve

    Read about this site in FFRF

  • Alex Weaver

    If you believe in a god who wants you to hate, Ms. Fotusky, then more power to you, and good riddance!

    I think you mean “less power to you.” ^.^

  • Joffan

    Excuse my cynicism, but I will wait until Ms Fotusky actually resigns before paying any attention to her. Grandstanding is a very common sport in politics, especially religious politics.

  • sqeecoo

    Quick question: what is the legal difference, exactly, between a “marriage” and a “civil union”? Or is just about the name?

    Thanks!

  • Eric

    You don’t wanna sign a form for a gay marriage? You’re fired. I don’t know how things work in small town New York, maybe clerks are voted for in some jurisdictions as they sometimes are here in Texas, but surely there must be some way of removing a clerk, JP, or registrar when they do not comply with the law.

    I know people think of Texas as a gay-unfriendly state, but you can still have the equivalent of a gay marriage here if you file the right legal forms. Of course, gay marriage or civil unions would be better because these same rights would be assumed without having to do so much paperwork.

    Gay marriage is on its way. Even in Texas. Most powerful gay politician in the US was voted into office by Texans. When Annise Parker is term limited out, she could easily win US house district TX-18 if Jackson-Lee should retire. There are a couple other districts she could win too, and she owns lots of property and would qualify to run in them.

    What I really wonder is why the gay rights agenda has been so successful while the pro-feminist reproductive rights agenda which was a consensus view in the 70′s and 80″s has taken such a beating. Where did it all go wrong?

    Purity balls? Abortion restrictions? Conscience clauses for pharmacists? Something is wrong. How have gays advanced while women (and every man who’s not a total creep) have fared so badly?

  • David Hart

    Squeecoo: As a UK citizen I can’t really speak for the States, but after a little googling, the answer seems to be ‘it depends where you are’. Here in the UK our equivalent, the ‘civil partnership’, is identical to marriage in terms of the legal rights and responsibilities that follow from it apart from a couple of nerdy legal details (like ‘adultery’ is not an automatic ground for allowing a divorce for a civil partnership whereas it is for marriage), and the possibly more consequential fact that churches are not allowed to perform civil partnership ceremonies (though debate has been a-brewing to change that). So here it is pretty much just the name. As someone who has just been through a law degree, though, I can tell you it’s pretty annoying to have to say ‘spouse or civil partner’ all the time when talking about relevant laws, when if they’d just called it marriage, we could just say ‘spouse’ whatever sex the couple were.

  • Charles Black

    The sooner we can get rid of primitive bronze age worldviews from dictating the law of the land, the better off humanity becomes. I couldn’t be happier that the bigots are getting out of positions of power so they can’t enforce their hate onto the population.

  • Hibernia86

    Eric, Gay rights are advancing relatively quickly because people are meeting real live gay people and see that they are just regular folks and because most people are not Bible literalists. The pro-life movement is advancing (though at a slower pace) because ultrasound technology has advanced and people like babies (though I would be quick to point out that I personally think many pro-life laws go much too far)

  • Vin720

    I’m very cynical. How long till the first NY gay divorce? Sounds like another banner industry just popped up for the lawyers! The unintended consequences of laws!

  • Alex Weaver

    The pro-life movement is advancing (though at a slower pace) because ultrasound technology has advanced and people like babies (though I would be quick to point out that I personally think many pro-life laws go much too far)

    That’s difficult to reconcile with the anti-choicers’ actual positions.

    Let alone the facts and the arguments that are held to be persuasive when the rights of someone who is recognized by the listener as a PERSON, as opposed to a WOMAN, are at issue. (Simplest one: do you have the right to force someone to donate a kidney to keep someone alive? Then you don’t have the right to force someone to donate a uterus to keep someone alive. QEFDwhyarewehavingthisconversation).

  • RipleyP

    @ 13 – Vin720–Gay divorce will inevitably form part of the whole spectrum of the equality.

    The right to divorce is not that much different to the right for a gay person to marry. One must go hand in hand. Yes lawyers may be involved in gay divorce but they were also involved in property disputes between separated couples but under different laws.

    So basically there should be equality in entering into marriage regardless of heterosexual or same sex as well as equality in exiting the relationship.

    In Australia gay cuples were once denied access to the law for the purpose of property settlements. Not all that long ago actually. So equal access to the law on divorce and property settlement is required. Also lets not forget childrens matters for those gay couple with children.

    I applaud the US for having the debate and fighting for equality. Australia still needs a bit of work.

  • anna

    “I want to ensure that our local officials appreciate that there will be ramifications in our county for exercising a personal, discriminatory belief, rather than doing their job,” Ms. Rice said Tuesday.

    “The law is the law; when you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose,” [Gov. Cuomo] said at an appearance in Manhattan, adding, “If you can’t enforce the law, then you shouldn’t be in that position.”

    Terrific. Now when do we start enforcing this on pharmacists and doctors who try to deny women legally available birth control and abortions because of their religious morality? Conscience clauses are bullshit.

  • Quath

    Squeecoo: Part of the argument is just over the definition of the word, “marriage.” Some have suggest compromise where gay people get the word, “civil unions,” and make sure that it has the same rights as marriage. But that compromise has several flaws.

    The most glaring flaw is that if you have two institutions, they won’t be equal (as we saw in concept of “separate but equal”). Another problem is how to deal with a man who “marries” a woman and “civil unions” with another man. The needless complexity leads to odd situations. Finally, it is a push towards bigotry. having heterosexuals tell homosexuals not to use “their” word is like the white man telling the black man not to drink from his water fountain.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Now when do we start enforcing this on pharmacists and doctors who try to deny women legally available birth control and abortions because of their religious immorality? Conscience clauses are bullshit.

    Fixed that for ya ;)

  • 2-D Man

    Simplest one: do you have the right to force someone to donate a kidney to keep someone alive? Then you don’t have the right to force someone to donate a uterus to keep someone alive.

    I think it’s better to use blood donation as the comparison, since donating blood is trivial (for people like me, at least), and what monster* is going to advocate forcibly extracting someone’s blood?

    “The law is the law; when you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose,” [Gov. Cuomo] said at an appearance in Manhattan, adding, “If you can’t enforce the law, then you shouldn’t be in that position.”

    I don’t know where to stand on this. I read The Authoritarians a while back and in it Altemeyer says that anti-authoritarians are more likely to violate a law they disagree with. So I’m wondering what people around here would think of someone who violates the law in favour of equality, who refuses to do their job when it requires them to act like a bigot.

    *Vampires

  • Alex Weaver

    espite the fact that the Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, as well as support from independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, true marriage equality stalled in the face of opposition from M. Teresa Paiva-Weed

    Paiva-Weed?

    I guess they did ^.^

    (Was the title of the post intentional?)

  • Alex Weaver

    I think it’s better to use blood donation as the comparison, since donating blood is trivial (for people like me, at least), and what monster* is going to advocate forcibly extracting someone’s blood?

    Blood donation will only kill you with a truly freak accident.

  • 2-D Man

    Blood donation will only kill you with a truly freak accident.

    Exactly. If you can’t force someone to give blood, how could you possibly force someone to give birth?

  • 2-D Man

    Er, that last comment could be easily misinterpreted.
    That wasn’t supposed to be directed at you, personally, Alex. I know where you stand on that debate. My point is that giving blood makes a better rhetorical point that giving a kidney. That’s all.
    I apologize if I offended.

  • cag

    I find it abhorrent that christians are allowed access to medical services when they can pray for recovery. Surely if their imaginary god wants them to get well, fantasy god will make them well.

  • Hibernia86

    Alex, you bring up an interesting question. Say that Congress was to pass a law that said that if a child was dying of kidney failure then one of the parents of that child would be required to give the child one of their kidneys. I wonder what percentage of the population would support that law. That would at least show if they were being hypocritical in the abortion debate or not.


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