Autumn in New York Print
By Robert Royal   
Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Even people who deplored it were predicting, long before the vote last week, that gay “marriage” was coming to the Empire State. And we owe it ultimately to a few Republican state senators, several Catholic, who gave up the fight though they were in a majority that might have stopped it. And why not? Andrew Cuomo, also a Catholic, has been pushing the issue and is eager to sign the bill into law. He marched in New York’s Gay Pride Parade this weekend with his live-in girlfriend – and is still receiving Communion at public Masses.

In political circles, it’s common to quote Thomas More’s rebuke of Richard Rich in A Man for All Seasons, who betrayed More and was rewarded with being named Attorney General of Wales: “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . but for Wales?”

By all accounts, the people who cast the deciding votes in New York didn’t even get the equivalent of Wales. They seem to have gotten nothing at all, except a respite from having to stand up against ugly and relentless pressures.

I don’t know exactly why, but this development has depressed me more than just about any social decision in recent years. The pols in New York are no better than anywhere else, but probably not much worse either. The fact that they could be so easily turned on such a momentous issue bodes ill.

One measure of how weak the political will to resist has become is that Michele Bachmann – Miss Tea Party 2011 and the strongest social conservative running for president – said after the decision that while she “personally believed” that marriage is between a man and a woman, the Tenth Amendment allows states to decide things like this not among the enumerated powers in the Constitution.

True enough, and who wants the Federal government legislating everything. But there’s something strangely tone-deaf and outright bizarre in our political culture when a woman like Bachmann, who’s a smart cookie in many ways, seems to back off from the fight because of the Tenth Amendment, as if what was primarily at stake was something like the balance of powers.  

           Archbishop Dolan spoke out forcefully against same-sex marriage in New York

We’re now living in a world where Maureen Dowd, who mans (so to speak) the anti-Catholic desk at The New York Times, took President Obama to task after the vote for his failure to show up “on the front lines of the civil rights issue of our time.”

Let that sink in for a second. Most people reading this probably belong to social groups who regard abortion as the civil rights issue of our time. But to me, it almost beggars belief that there are people who say, and I think believe, that denying people with same-sex attractions the right to “marry” – which most won’t do anyway – is close to being on par with women getting the vote or the civil rights movement of half a century ago. 

That’s why, I think, I find this whole development so depressing. A view that is quite radical has been slowly worked into our society in an incredibly short time. Not that long ago, it would have seemed unthinkable. We’re like a political body stripped of its immune system. Our colleague Austin Ruse often reminds me that we should not accept the gay argument of inevitability. And he’s right – nothing is fated if enough people band together and work hard. We’ve seen some success of this kind over abortion. 

But the first thing you need to fight the good fight is to see the disposition of forces clearly. And it’s not a happy picture. Until recently, we could console ourselves that the people usually reject gay marriage, given a chance to vote on it. That may be allowed to happen less and less as gay activists and their supporters size up the political landscape better. A harbinger: the D.C. city government’s ethics commission blocked an effort, mostly by black churches, to hold a referendum last year, arguing that it would be unethical and violate the city non-discrimination statutes to allow the people to vote on gay marriage.

In Maryland, a governor who boasted of having gone to Catholic schools his whole life and sent all his kids to similar schools was the leading proponent of gay marriage in the state, observing that the bishops were against it only because it’s kind of their job to hold on to the past. (He’s near sixty. Imagine what the schools that graduated him with so little knowledge about the Church teach now.) He was overconfident and the black preachers in Baltimore stopped him. But we’ll see what happens in the long run.

And speaking of the churches, in the long run, and even the short run, we’re reaching a critical juncture. There are exemptions for churches in the New York law, but for how long, and of what sort? If it’s true that gay marriage is “the civil rights issue of our time” for many influential people and institutions, doesn’t that make the Church and its allies look like the Klan resisting de-segregation? 

It’s autumn in New York and evening in America – unless we act swiftly.

Robert Royal
is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books. 


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