On Friday, New York became the 6th state in the United States to allow gay marriage! Not civil unions, but equal marriage! Truly wondrous news! This is a very significant development in the fight for gay rights. New York is the third most populous state behind California and Texas, with a population of 19.4 million people (1). In other words, the number of gay couples who can legally get married just increased significantly. This is also really significant because New York doesn’t have a residency requirement for marriage (2), which means that people from other states can get married there. The trend is obvious, and one day we will achieve marriage equality nation-wide, but we still have a long fight ahead of us.
Here in California, gay marriage has had a tumultuous history. It has been made illegal via voter referendum twice, and made legal by the courts once. It is currently illegal, but a high-profile case is working its way through the federal courts system, and could end up at the Supreme Court. With any luck, we can win in there, which will make gay marriage legal across the U.S. I can only hope that we will look back on Perry vs. Schwarzenegger the same way we look back on Brown vs. the Bord of Education and Loving vs. Virginia. That is the best case scenario, but unfortunately not the only one. The current Supreme Court is rather conservative, so it’s hard to say what the result will be. The case may not even make it to the Supreme Court, because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering whether or not the defendants have standing. If the Ninth Circuit decides that the defendants don’t have standing, then the victory will only be partial. Gay marriage would once again become legal in California (most likely for good), but the rest of the country would remain the way it is. There’s always the chance we could loose outright too. (4)
In many ways, the atheist movement has a lot in common with the gay rights movement. Greta Christina discusses these issues far more eloquently than I can (plus she is much more of an authority on LGBT issues than me), so I highly recommend reading her article on the subject here (5). Suffice to say, the atheist movement is really just getting started, and is roughly where the LGBT movement was in the 1970’s after the Stonewall riots. There are many ways that the two movements are similar, but I think the biggest thing we have in common is that the primary opposition to both movements is religion. This commonality also makes the two movements natural allies, in my opinion. When one group succeeds, the other benefits. We in the atheist community owe a debt of gratitude to the LGBT community for all of their hard work and perseverance in the face of religious oppression. Hopefully we in the atheist community can return the favor.
I want to finish with a clip from an amazing speech by Harvey Milk (6), one of the early LGBT movement’s leaders. It’s amazing to see how far we have come since this speech was given, but it is also a reminder of how far we have to go. But for now, let’s celebrate with New York for all that has been accomplished.
(1) “State & County QuickFacts: New York.” U.S. Census Bureau. Available: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36000.html
(2) “New York Marriage License Information.” About.com Available: http://marriage.about.com/cs/marriagelicenses/p/newyork.htm
(3) Parr, Ben. “Rainbow Empire State Building Pic Goes Viral on Twitter.” 24th June. Mashable. Available: http://mashable.com/2011/06/25/empire-state-building-rainbow-twitter/
(4) “Prop 8 Trial.” Prop 8 Trial Tracker. Available: http://www.prop8trialtracker.com/category/prop-8-trial/
(5) Christina, Greta. “What Can the Atheist Movement Learn from the Gay Movement?” Greta Christina’s Blog. 15th Feburary, 2011. Available: http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2010/02/what-can-the-atheist-movement-learn-from-the-gay-movement.html
(6) Milk, Harvey. “The Hope Speech : Harvey Milk.” Danaroc. Available: http://www.danaroc.com/guests_harveymilk_122208.html