My Fight for Marriage Equality
Linda Barat is the co-chair of the Kulanu Committee for LGBT inclusion at Temple Israel, New Rochelle.
Why did I go to Albany? Was it because my best friend from high school died in the 1980s from AIDS and never felt acceptance as a gay man and didn't have the years left to find a life and partner for himself? Was it because I first felt the shame of discrimination when the first Black family moved to town, only to leave within a week after a burning cross was placed on their front lawn? Was it because I learned about prejudice from my own mother who broke down sobbing when she heard that Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed? Was it because I tried to create a loving and inclusive home environment for my children as I raised and shared my stories with them? Was it because sharing these life experiences all added up to a safe environment when my son came out?
Yes to all of these. And because I have two children who I hope will find a loving partner and have the opportunity to marry some day. I want the same rights for two children whom I love equally. The only difference is one is gay and one is straight - but there's no difference to me.
I traveled to Albany to advocate for the passage of the Marriage Equality bill and to witness - what I hoped would be - a historic vote. I did not know what I was getting myself into. A friend of mine who has been an advocate and ally for years had invited me to travel with her. Leaving the daily grind behind and deciding I needed to make this a priority, I went.
This experience was entirely different than the Advocacy Day I attended this spring hosted by Reform Jewish Voice and Interfaith Impact, during which we had meetings scheduled with our legislators. This was chaos.
We were to meet outside of the Senate chambers and confront people filled with intolerance, anger, spewing hate, and claiming they knew the "word of God." Tears and sadness overcame me. I felt helpless from this hate. It took me a while to recompose myself and I knew I had my own voice and reason to be there. I continued to advocate in peace.
Along with fellow Jews, rabbis, clergy and other supporters, we sang songs of peace in both Hebrew and English, including "Oseh shalom," "God Bless America," "This Land Is Your Land," "If I had a Hammer" and more. I kept thinking how Pete Seeger and Peter Yarrow would have been proud. Ironically, there were times when both sides were singing the same songs together!
The opposition shouted and tried to engage and challenge the crowd, wanting to quote Bible verses and passages. But we paraded through the halls peacefully holding signs including "Equality for All Families," "Another Straight New Yorker for Marriage Equality," "Rabbis for Equality" and "It's not About the Chupah or Altar - It's About City Rights At City Hall."
It struck me as amazing how people claim for themselves the word of God. Do they have a direct line? Do we not struggle and wrestle with the words of Torah for ourselves?
We took a few hours to sit in the Senate chamber gallery to watch the work being done. It seemed like a slow process. People were constantly getting up, walking out, coming back; lots of legislative aides sitting, standing and following. Where was the real work happening?
We realized the Marriage Equality bill would not be brought to the floor as we watched the media and television cameras being pulled out. And where were those ministers from the Bronx, the district of Senator Diaz, who had filled the opposite side of the gallery? Gone.
After we heard from one of the supportive Democratic Senators that nothing would be happening that day and the language in the bill was still being decided, we knew it was time to leave. And so we too packed up, physically and emotionally drained, and hit the road home.
The following days felt like a waiting game for us, for our friends and our families. We wished we could be back there every day.
With a new perspective, I look around at everyone in my community and think - have you made your voice heard? Did you sign a petition, write an email, make a phone call? Did you take a stand? While it is so easy to let others do the work, I encourage and challenge every individual to take some type of action. Tikkun olam is our shared responsibility.
Change does come slow, but it will come.
A Marriage Equality triumph reflection:
I can't think of a more meaningful way to welcome the passage of the Marriage Equality Act than with my community at Temple Israel of New Rochelle at our third annual Pride Shabbat. As the Rabbi said a blessing before services, we thought of what we might be witnessing that night. Throughout the service, people were checking their phones for updates, but it was after the oneg that we got the official word. What a blessing to be together! It will be one of those moments of knowing where you were when this happened.
New York City's annual gay pride parade was Sunday, June 2 and more than a half-million people joined the celebration. Seeing Governor Andrew Cuomo marching finally gave me closure. I silently mouthed "thank you" to him for securing rights to which our children, friends and families are entitled, but also for his firm commitment to the pursuit of justice for all.
Photo courtesy of marriageequality at deviantART