Saturday, June 6, 2009

An attempt to change the mind of my NY State Senator on Gay Marriage

The gay marriage debate is heating up across the country and New York State is no exception. Currently, there is a Marriage Equality Bill being debated in our State Senate. It has already passed through our Assembly, but is floundering in the Senate. I recently called my State Senator and was informed that he plans to vote no on the bill because he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. Here is my attempt to change his mind:

June 8, 2009

Dear Senator Stachowski:

First of all, I would like to point out that I understand that this letter to you is massive, but it is because this issue affects me personally and I care deeply about it. If you would prefer to have a face-to-face meeting, I would absolutely love to. I spoke to someone in your Buffalo office who said you read your email regularly and are happy to hear from your constituents, so I figured this would be a good first step, so onward with the email!

I am a gay man and a constituent of yours who is fairly concerned about your plan to vote "no" on the Marriage Equality bill. I have voted for you twice and would love to continue to do so, mainly because I am very grateful that your voting record supports many progressive ideals, such as protecting the environment and supporting unions. However, I feel that voting against the Marriage Equality would be a sharp contrast to many of the things you promote.

As I'm sure you're well aware, the majority of Americans voted for Barack Obama last year because he promised us hope and change along the Democratic platform. He has been firing on all cylinders since he took office and has accomplished many great things in his first few months, and he serves as a constant inspiration to us citizens. One of our great President's most valuable assets is his belief that compassion must play a role in our government, and this issue requires compassion and empathy on your part.

I appreciate that you support Civil Unions, and I understand that you believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. However, there are distinct differences between marriages and Civil Unions that demonstrate the inequality between the two. For instance, if I met the love of my life overseas, I would not be able to sponsor him to immigrate to the US as my husband if New York only offered Civil Unions, and since I will be traveling overseas for a year to earn my Master's Degree, this scenario is actually possible for me. Also, Civil Unions aren't recognized by the federal government and thus, my husband and I wouldn't be able to receive any tax breaks or file a joint tax return, which would deny us the economic rights that all heterosexual couples have.

As citizens, homosexuals have the right to equal protection under the law, which was set in place by the 14th Amendment. Taking this further, granting us only Civil Unions would violate the concept that separate is not equal. There is precedent for this in the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. While I don't mean to compare the centuries of repression forced upon the African American community and the hardships of the Civil Rights Movement to the struggle for recognition and equality by homosexuals, the effort is similar. Due to the inherent inequality between the two, Civil Unions will eventually be converted into marriages because they are separate and not equal, even if it takes a century to do so, although it may take even less time. People my age overwhelmingly support their gay friends and find it to be an acceptable lifestyle deserving of equal treatment. Once we become old enough to exert more voice within the government and are a more unified voting bloc, I'm sure my generation will grant people like me equal rights. It's really only a matter of time. While this opportunity for basic equality is in front of us, I am hoping that the Marriage Equality Bill will pass with your support.

Unfortunately, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996, and repealing this law would be a huge victory for gays nationwide. Obviously, this lies outside of your jurisdiction. However, the passage of the Marriage Equality Bill will override this law for our state, making New York a beacon of freedom, equality, love, and justice. The homosexual community has gained much acceptance since DOMA was passed, but right now, the fight is being waged state by state. As New Yorkers, we have a chance to lead the nation in the fight for equality and I sincerely hope that you will fight for us.

Let me give you a little back-story about myself. I'm a 25-year-old guy who was born and raised here in Buffalo. I live in Cheektowaga and am about to attend graduate school in Europe and Asia and will receive my Master of Arts in International Relations. I may be currently single, but once I come home form my adventure, I would love to have the option to marry available to me. My political views are fairly progressive, and I am simply a product of my environment. I have seen how society can neglect people and I believe that compassion is the most important value a person can have. I happily pay my taxes because I know that without them, civilization as we know it would cease to exist. I give to charities and causes and I am proud to vote and I vote often. Currently, I work for People Inc, which is one of our county's largest employers where I am a manager of a program that allows college-aged individuals with minor disabilities to receive the typical college experience. I love my job and I've learned to love giving back to my community. One of my students who is 22 is currently engaged and plans to marry his fiancé next month. He is a wonderful guy, but he has no job and receives funding through the State (Medicaid) to attend my program. He also still thinks that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually exist in our subway system and that the shark from Jaws might come through his showerhead and attack him one day. Even though he doesn't pay many taxes, doesn't work, and believes that cartoon characters are real, he has the right to get married. I've worked very hard to come as far as I have, and I have given much back to the community and yet I am deprived of that right simply because I am attracted to other men. Some of my students who are heterosexual who, because of one reason or another, may not be functioning members of society have more rights than I do, and I find that frustrating. To watch my student get married next month will be joyous, but I will be thinking in the back of my mind that it is not currently possible for me and for many others, even though gays and lesbians are wonderful contributors to our societal structure.

Of course, the reason I am writing to you today is because I am gay, although being gay is not the largest part of me. In fact, it's a fairly small part. When I tell people who have just met me that I'm gay, they are often fairly surprised. I choose not to flaunt it but I am not ashamed of who I am. This attitude takes a lot of confidence to uphold because homosexuals are apparently considered the epitome of evil and sin by many conservatives these days, and anything less than full equality under the law will give them more fuel with which to condemn us as unnatural second class citizens. Seeing that the government would only recognize our love with Civil Unions while their love is allowed to flourish under typical marriage laws would give more reason for them to attack us, to think that we are not equal, and to assume many more incorrect and often hateful things about us as normal people.

Being gay is also not a choice. If it were a choice, trust me, I might've considered choosing otherwise because being gay can be a struggle. I have met some amazing people, however, and would never change that, but this lifestyle is not easy. Meeting people can be a challenge and coming out is pretty rough. I also feel self-conscious holding my boyfriend's hand or kissing him in public while heterosexual couples are free to express their love without fear of causing a raucous or being mocked or attacked. Watching my straight friends display affection without a care in the world makes me envious, but I am glad to be a part of this fight for basic civil rights. I am also looking forward to having children one day, and I want to be able to tell my kids that their dads are married, their love is just the same as other married couples, and that they are respected like heterosexual parents, but I fear that only having a Civil Union would make explaining this point to my kids difficult.

The benefits of legalizing marriages for same-sex couples are plentiful. First and foremost, we gays would single-handedly save the economy because of the amount of money we'd spend on our overtly garish weddings! In all seriousness, however, legalizing gay marriages would deliver more money into the economy due to the increase in net income after the tax benefits we'd receive. It would also be a great way to demonstrate to our children that hate should never dictate law and that being different is okay. Also, once gay marriage is legalized, gays would be able to move into the role of parents more easily, and would create loving and supportive households for more children who may not have the best opportunities otherwise because we would most likely adopt our kids. The more well-loved and well-supported children we have as a society, the better we stand as a whole, as these children will grow up to become strong citizens.

I would also like to address the issue of religion and faith that dominates this discussion. I was raised Catholic like you, but have since left the faith because it condemns homosexuality. It is a strange feeling to know that the faith I grew up with doesn't approve of something I had no choice in. Much of my family remains Catholic, like much of the area, and I respect that, of course. As gay man, I am not concerned about being acknowledged by any of the various faiths around the country as I have found solace in other places. Thankfully, this country was founded on the preservation of differences between people by keeping church and state separate, yet this issue cannot seem to keep the two isolated. I understand how religion can affect one's decisions, however it should not affect decisions that will affect others. I find it extremely unfair that so many people are trying to push their religious beliefs onto me when I want nothing more than to be happy and live my own life, and that is basically what this issue comes down to. I am not looking to force someone into a gay marriage; I am simply looking to have that option available to me. If someone doesn’t support homosexuals being married, then they shouldn’t marry a homosexual, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the state should be deprived of that right. Marriage was first a religious institution that was, and still is, steeped in tradition, and homosexuals are not looking to change these traditions inside of religion. Each church will be able to marry whom they want to marry, and because church and state are to be kept separate, we cannot change that. Some religions do support gay marriage and allow us to hold commitment ceremonies in their place of worship but that is not the point of this bill, as it has nothing to do with religion. We are simply looking for equal treatment under the law since marriage is no longer strictly a religious institution. There are obvious governmental and societal benefits that we do not have that are entirely separate from the religious part of marriage. Because the government is involved in issuing marriage licenses and offers differences under the law for married versus single people, homosexual couples deserve to be treated as equals. The Marriage Equality Bill isn’t about homosexuals desiring equal treatment in churches, it’s about desiring equal treatment under the government of New York State, which is to be kept separate from religious concepts in the first place.

Many people who support banning gay marriage believe that the institution needs to be "protected," but when the divorce rate in this country is over 50% and people like Britney Spears are able to get annulments after a weekend of marriage, does this institution need protection or revision? It is hypocritical of heterosexual couples to demand that something they consider so precious be denied to us when they have done a terrible job of protecting it themselves.

As the State Senator of this district, I don't believe that a "no" vote represents the best interest of your constituents, however I love politics and I understand how the game is played. I understand that this issue is extremely divisive and that the population of your district is fairly elderly, blue-collar, and not necessarily progressive. A vote in support of this bill could potentially jeopardize your re-election. However, there are more gay citizens in your district than you might think, and many more straight people who support their homosexual citizens. Supporting us would earn you more support from them. Your record is fantastic in supporting issues that matter to this area, and in this issue, you have the opportunity to be progressive and compassionate to your constituents and fellow citizens. Simply put, I am requesting that you please change your planned vote to "yes." I greatly appreciate your time reading this email, and I would enjoy having a face-to-face conversation to convey my passion about this issue.

Respectfully and sincerely,

Edward M Cichon

(PS.. please let me know what you think! I have yet to send this to my Senator and would love any suggestions and criticisms. If you notice any errors, please let me know, as well!)

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