Thursday, January 07, 2010

Today in Trenton

Never have I heard a "Hallelujah" sound so ugly.

We were in the overflow room of the NJ State Senate in Trenton, waiting for the vote on the marriage equality act, which would have given same-sex couples the right to marry. We'd listened to a number of speeches about the bill, some of them excellent. We'd spent the morning in the cold, holding up signs and singing. The afternoon we spent tracking one particular senator in the hope that she could be persuaded to have the courage and foresight to buck her party affiliation and vote yes (like her colleague, Bill Baroni). And then, there we were, listening to speech after speech, explaining why the senators were voting for the bill (Baroni gave an excellent one, as did Senators Ray Lesniak, Nia Gill, M. Teresa Ruiz, and my senator Barbara Buono) or against it (these speeches were uniformly wrongheaded, but the standout was Sean Kean's craven "I love the gays, everyone should have some in their neighborhoods because they really spruce them up, but I won't let them marry, and stop calling me a bigot or afraid of a primary challenge" speech, that at times had the coherence of a reading of a Scrabble board.).

As the senators for equality spoke, there were regular explosions of applause... but short bursts, as the crowd wanted to hear what was said next. There were more frequent -- and much smaller -- bursts of applause for the anti-equality Senators, from an enthusiastic contingent on the other side of the room from us. (Applauding more often wasn't a problem; there weren't enough of them to drown out the speeches they liked.)

Then came the vote. I'd been expecting a voice vote, like the white-knuckle experience I'd had watching CNN at 1 in the morning a few weeks ago to see the U.S. Senate pass healthcare reform. Instead, the vote was represented in scoreboard form. 14 to 19 in favor of the antis... and then a 20th vote against. The equality bill was defeated.

And then, upon hearing it declared that her fellow citizens would not be allowed to marry the people they love, some woman across the room shouted, "Hallelujah."

I can picture her, years from now, looking back with regret on her joy at this moment. Sitting with her grandchildren, all of whom have grown up knowing married, same-sex couples and their children. Kids who have grown up with marriage equality as the fact that it soon will be, no matter the cowardice of the senators who abstained, no matter the calculations of those who weighed their own political careers against securing rights for their fellow citizens. All of that will have faded into the past, and women and men will have long been free to marry each other, and the world will have kept turning. Change will have come, and brought countless couples into each other's arms.

And she'll think of this day, way back in 2010, when she was foolish enough to praise God for standing in the way of love.



Rob said...

The only problem is that she won't change, she'll still be her bigoted self the rest of her life, EXCEPT possibly if it actually affects someone in her family which would force her into a need to change her thinking. Otherwise she'll remain in that way of thinking till she dies.

Yes - eventually equal rights will occur. But it may not happen until another generation begins to take office. Our children will lead us into a new era.

Rob S. said...

Well... yeah. I doubt she'll change either.

Actually, this is the optimistic version of the post. There was another version that was up for about a half hour before I changed it. The way it originally ended was:

And she'll think of this day, way back in 2010, when she was foolish enough to praise God for standing in the way of love. And she'll say to her grandchildren gathered around her: "If I had to guess, that's when I think I got cancer."

I had three problems with it. One: It was so mean that I was afraid writing it would be the moment I got cancer. Secondly, I liked what I wrote so much that I didn't want it all to be the setup for a giant punchline.

But mainly, I've known enough people with cancer that I wasn't comfortable portraying it as something God uses as punishment.

The Hallelujah woman would probably feel otherwise.


Geoff said...

I was just a few rows behind that woman, and saw as someone videotaping the crowd rushed up to interview her through her jubilant tears (I kid you not) as the rest of us sat there, stunned despite expectations of defeat.

Personally, I predict she'll stay bigoted her entire life, and her children will be embarrassed by her and stop coming around and won't bring her grandchildren around later on. (You can advance the timeline if she's older than I thought.)

That's certainly what's happened in my generation with those people whose parents and/or grandparents were against equal rights for African-Americans, including interracial marriage.

Rude said...

like the new ending way better...
thought the old one was a little rude.

Rob S. said...

Yeah, it was -- intentionally so -- but that's part of the reason why I changed it.

I think Geoff's got the right idea, actually. These people curse their own lives.

morguebabe said...

I was in the room with her, I was 4 rows behind her, and she made me feel so sick and disgusted, and irony of a black woman cheering for discrimination appalls me. It appalls me shes a pastor. And Keans speech was ignorant beyond belief. He has to know how he sounded.

Greg! said...

The "Hallelujah Woman" was black? How narrow and short-sighted can peoples' tunnel vision be? How can it not occur to her that sixty-some years ago, or less, it would not have been legal for her to wed a white man? That, God help us, there are still places in our nation where an inter-racial couple stands as good a chance of being harassed or attacked in public as an evident same-sex couple? That one oppressed group can not support the oppression of another group without validating their own oppression?