The legislative sessions ends in Albany today. There are a lot of bills with religious components.
The New York chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, for instance, is calling on Muslims and others to contact their state senators about a bill that would recognize Muslim holidays in the NYC schools.
Then I read this report from the AP’s Marc Humbert about a Tuesday evening debate on same-sex marriage. It’s worth reading:
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Ã¢â‚¬â€ It is a rare day in the state Legislature Ã¢â‚¬â€ perhaps once or twice a decade Ã¢â‚¬â€ when a debate keeps members in their seats listening intently to their colleagues.
It happened Tuesday evening as the state Assembly took up the difficult issue of same-sex marriage. The often emotional three-hour debate showed many at their best.
There was a motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s story.
For five minutes, Teresa Sayward spoke to the hushed chamber about her son. About his coming home from elementary school and asking what Ã¢â‚¬Å“fagÃ¢â‚¬? and Ã¢â‚¬Å“queerÃ¢â‚¬? meant.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My son didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to be different. Lord knows, he wanted to change,Ã¢â‚¬? she recalled.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“So I consulted the church. I read everything I could. I read the Bible. I read white papers on this issue. Surely, I could make him normal,Ã¢â‚¬? said Sayward.
He also tried. He got a girlfriend in high school. It helped for a while, she said. His classmates were more accepting.
Then he went to college. There were drugs and questions about identity.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When he would come home on the weekend, we would spend long nights crying together and talking,Ã¢â‚¬? she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“One night, I said to him, Ã¢â‚¬ËœYou have to be who you are. You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be what people think you should be.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
Ã¢â‚¬Å“And he said to me, Ã¢â‚¬ËœBut Mom, I want to be normal. I want to have a house and a fence and a dog and children and I want to be successful,Ã¢â‚¬?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Sayward said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He did decide with us Ã¢â‚¬â€ with his family, with his father and I Ã¢â‚¬â€ that he would be who he was. And, he became much happier in life,Ã¢â‚¬? she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m happy to report that my son has the house and the fence and the dog. And, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s raised two wonderful young men.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s search our hearts tonight and do the right thing and vote for the civil rights and the human rights of all of the people that we represent and give them the right to marry the people they love just like I had the right, 43 years ago, to marry my husband,Ã¢â‚¬? Sayward pleaded.
The applause went on for a full 20 seconds.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The tears were streaming down my face,Ã¢â‚¬? said one veteran Democratic Assembly employee.
But Sayward, little known to most New Yorkers, is not a Democrat. She is no liberal New York City lawmaker. She was born, raised and still lives in Willsboro way up near the Canadian border. She can look across Lake Champlain to the Green Mountains of Vermont. She is a Republican from Republican country. There are 50,000 Republicans in her district and 21,000 Democrats.
It is not often that government debate, viewed as dry, formal and formulaic, impassions like this.
It happened in September 2001 as the Legislature adopted anti-terrorism measures in the days following the 9/11 attacks and in the state Senate in 1997 as that chamber rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment to allow non-Indian casinos in New York.
While Sayward was perhaps the star Tuesday night, other Assembly members on both sides of the issue also impressed their colleagues.
Brian Kolb spoke of Ã¢â‚¬Å“the nuns who taught me in grammar schoolÃ¢â‚¬? and his marriage in the Catholic Church.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I do feel threatened. I do feel harmed in terms of what you are trying to do with this particular bill because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a direct challenge to me and how I was brought up,Ã¢â‚¬? said the Canandaigua Republican as he came out against Ã¢â‚¬Å“a bill that tears at my very soul.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I might be over-dramatizing, but I truly fear we are witnessing the twilight of our modern civilization,Ã¢â‚¬? said Bronx Democrat Michael Benjamin as he voted with Kolb against the measure even while declaring his love Ã¢â‚¬Å“for my gay brother.Ã¢â‚¬?
Dierdre Scozzafava of St. Lawrence County told her Assembly colleagues Ã¢â‚¬Å“the politically easiest thingÃ¢â‚¬? for her would be to vote against the measure and support civil unions for gays.
But the Gouverneur Republican said that four days earlier she had sat with a good friend Ã¢â‚¬Å“and he explained to me why that did not provide him equal protection under the law.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What might be the easiest thing for me to do tonight, is not the right thing,Ã¢â‚¬? she said.
In all, four Republicans Ã¢â‚¬â€ Sayward, Scozzafava, Joel Miller of Dutchess County and Michael Spano of Westchester County Ã¢â‚¬â€ joined with 81 Democrats to win approval for the measure in the Assembly. It stands no chance of passage, for now, in the Republican-led state Senate.