In Praise of New York Senate Republicans

In the midst of all the discussion of the passage of Same-Sex Marriage legislation in New York, I want to take a moment to congratulate the Republicans for behaving like passionate moderates.

First, some praise for those who voted against the bill: This article in the New York Times details the active and effective role of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in getting the coordinating the campaign to convince Democratic and Republican state senators to pass the bill. But it mostly brushes over a key decision made by the Republican caucus in the Senate: to allow a floor vote on a measure they collectively opposed but knew would pass. That’s a pretty remarkable and rare decision these days in which legislative logjams have become the norm. Instead, those opposed to the bill chose not to exercise their power as the majority of the majority to set the agenda. In doing so, they put principles of good procedure ahead of their ideological preferences, even when they knew it would lead to an outcome they opposed.

More praise for those Republicans who voted for the bill: One of the conservative concerns often expressed about same-sex marriage is that legalizing it will necessarily open religious organizations to charges of bias, including legal actions by states and individuals. I heard this often in the debate over California’s Proposition 8. Some in opposition expressed sympathy with the goals of equality but questioned whether this could be kept from infringing on religious freedom. Would churches suddenly be forced to recognize or even perform same-sex marriages? Would they be stripped of state funding for social programs they sponsored or their tax exempt status if they refused to do so? Many responded to such concerns by simply joining the opposition. But not a handful of Republican New York state senators. As this article reports, they took a different tack, instead working with the bill’s authors to include provisions that would protect religious liberty at the same time it extended equality. Ultimately, their concerns were addressed and they found themselves in alliance with those seeking to extend equality. Again, a commitment to the process rather than to partisan rhetoric helped address the problem at hand and produce a positive outcome. Good work, senators.

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