24 June 2011

Same-Sex Marriage in New York: Where Next?

Tonight, the New York State Senate voted, by a 33 to 29 margin, to legalize same-sex marriages.  Two upstate Republicans, who had been undecided, cast votes in favor of the bill that allows for same-sex unions, and broke the deadlock in the Senate.  The State Assembly voted, by a wider margin, in favor of the bill last week.  

About an hour after the vote, Governor Andrew Cuomo singned the bill into law.  Now New York State joins neighboring Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont, as well as New Hampshire, Iowa and the District of Columbia, in legalizing same-sex unions.  

The Coquille nation, whose members live mainly along the Oregon Coast, also have legalized same-sex marriage.  They did so two years ago, and there was no mention of it in the mainstream press.  In one sense, it's not difficult to understand why:  In the 2000 Census, exactly 576 people identified themselves as Coquille.  

What is interesting (and disturbing to some) is that New York is the sixth state to legalize same-sex unions.  How, exactly, did those other states--including Iowa!--beat New York to legalizing same-sex unions?

Well, I don't have a complete answer to that. And I can only venture any sort of answer at all.  But I can venture a guess.  

One peculiarity of New York City and State politics is the degree to which the Roman Catholic church has influence.  When Cardinal O'Connor headed the Archdiocese of New York, no one was elected as Mayor or Governor without his approval and endorsement.  Archbishop Timothy Dolan may not yet have anything like O'Connor's influence.  Then again, he's been in the position for less than a year.  Still, one cannot deny the influence he and the Church have, even at this early stage of his stewardship. 

Now, it's true that there are many Catholics in Massachusetts, particularly in the Boston area.  But even when the Irish were the main ethnic group in Boston, the clerical hierarchy of the local Archdiocese never seemed to gain the sort of power and influence that they did in New York.  If what I've just said is correct, it would be interesting to find out how and why that happened. 

Now, I've never been to Iowa.  But I have been to all of the other states (and DC) that have legalized same-sex marriage.  Granted, Connecticut and Vermont are the only ones (besides Massachusettes and, of course, New York) in which I've spent extended periods of time.  However, I think I've learned enough to form some impressions of each one.  

It seems to me that no particular church or religious organization has the sort of influence over those states that the Archdiocese has over New York.  That may be due to the fact that New York has always had such a large immigrant population and that so many of those immigrants were Catholic.  In fact, three of the City's and State's four largest ethnic groups through most of the twentieth century--the Irish, Germans and Italians--were mainly (in the case of the Italians, almost entirely) Roman Catholic.  They didn't have a non-Catholic aristocracy keeping them in check, the way the old-line WASP families did to the Irish Catholics in Boston. Or, at any rate, New York's equivalents to that ruling class, which had been mainly of Dutch and English heritage, had dissipated or disappeared entirely by the end of the 19th Century. And the largest non-Catholic ethnic group--the Jews--mostly allied themselves with the Irish and Italians, and later Hispanics (most of whom are Catholic) on political issues.  That effectively strengthened the Catholic hold on the city.  And, as New York City goes, so goes New York State.

On the other hand, the other states that now have same-sex marriage never had anything like the high numbers of immigrants, particularly from mostly-Catholic countries, that New York and Massachusetts have had.  In fact, religion seems to play very little, if any, of a role at all in politics and public life in Vermont and New Hampshire.  There seems to be more religiosity in Iowa, but there doesn't seem to be a dominant church as there is in New York or, to a lesser degree, in Massachusetts.

Knowing these things makes me wonder which state or jurisdiction will be the next one to legalize same-sex marriages.  Perhaps Proposition 8 will be struck down in California.  Or will Oregon or Washington legalize gay marriages before then?  On the other hand, I don't expect that New Jersey will have gay marriage as long as Chris Cristie is Governor, although I expect the Garden State to wed same-sex couples before most other states.  Whatever happens, I'm sure that New York is not going to be the last jurisdiction in the US to allow same-sex marriages.