This year’s New Yorker Festival featured a panel on gay marriage--an appropriate topic given this month's onslaught of gay hate crimes, suicides and statements from elected officials about gay rights. The longstanding fight over same-sex marriage between gay rights activists and conservative politicians is now more heated than ever. The New Yorker Festival’s panel on gay marriage was a timely discussion that laid out current arguments from both sides.
The panelists included Cynthia Nixon, an openly gay actress; R. Clarke Cooper, a Republican advocate for gay rights; Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay diocesan bishop in the Anglican Communion; and David Boies, a lawyer in the case that overturned California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative to prohibit same-sex marriage. Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, a non-profit group opposed to same-sex marriage, represented the opposite end of the spectrum.
Gay issues have recently been thrust into the spotlight as suicide tolls rise in the gay teenage population. Five boys killed themselves in recent weeks after reports of harsh bullying at school. Earlier this month, there was also the anti-gay bashing at the Stonewall Inn--the Village’s iconic gay bar--and brutal attacks on four gay men in the Bronx. Sadly, these events overshadowed this month’s National Coming Out Day. Controversial issues with the military’s "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" policy and the ongoing debate over gay marriage have also been in the limelight.
As elections gear up, the topics have cropped up at a fiery pace at both ends of the spectrum. Last week, appearing before a group of orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn, Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino brashly declared that he didn't want children "brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option."
Bon Mots (from the New Yorker festival panel):
Cynthia Nixon on the ramifications of the law treating gay people differently: “In the most heinous cases where they’re looking for someone to bully or beat or even kill, I think the society and the government sends them the message that here are some people you can pick on and we’re really going to look the other way.” Brian Brown on the consequences of redefining marriage: “It isn’t simply a live and let live scenario. You’re putting into law a powerful idea that there is no morally relevant difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples.”
Bishop Gene Robinson on why he told his clergy not to perform gay marriages: “Things have gotten very confused in this country because we have deputized clergy to be agents of the state in the conducting of marriages. And so when people go to weddings, they don’t know where the civil part begins and ends, or when the religious part begins and ends.”
R. Clarke Cooper on why Republicans can’t afford to alienate the gays: “We lost voters of the movable middle, or voters under 35. So there’s been a collective recognition, regardless of where Republicans stand on the issue of marriage equality, that those tactics in 2004 did not win in the long run.
David Boies on why the court should overrule the people: “What we have in this country is a combination of democratic principles on the political level and protection of minority rights, which the courts give us. If we ever depart from that, it diminishes not only the group that gets discriminated against at that particular moment, but it diminishes us all.”
Brian Brown on the consequences of redefining marriage: “It isn’t simply a live and let live scenario. You’re putting into law a powerful idea that there is no morally relevant difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples.”