|By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. For this story, so long in the making, many tunes would have been good... Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" (recorded in 1977) is not merely good; it's note and word perfect. It's a tune that means the human machine is moving again. That we're marching ahead! Moving, despite all inhibitions and blocks, towards the Promised Land. You'll find this number in any search engine. Listen to it a time or two before digging into this article. And be sure to save the link; you'll want to be reminded that humanity doesn't move inexorably ahead; it does so by fits and starts... even so, we move!
Saratoga all over again.
Back in late 1777, the fortunes of George Washington, his troops, and the entire Revolution were at rock bottom. All that was needed was one more British victory and the British would have the honor of catching Traitor George and his nefarious crew... then indeed would the revolutionaries who had not succeeded in hanging together would hang separately. Victory was close... temptingly close. It all hinged on a man called General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne (1722-1792) an officer who loved the pomp and circumstance of war... and knew his comfort and fortune, his place in history, were secure if he won that victory. Unfortunately Burgoyne was better at striking martial poses (Sir Joshua Reynolds painted him grandiloquently in one) than winning victories...
At Saratoga, in New York, Burgoyne, so very arrogant, so very confident of crushing victory, lost the battle. And while there were difficult days ahead for the revolutionaries when Gentleman Johnny surrendered, thereby bringing the French and Spanish support to their cause, the momentum shifted once and for all; the fate of British North America was glaringly apparent. All because of one event in New York, October, 1777.
And now New York has determined the fate of another revolution... same-sex marriage. There's no stopping it now.
The man who did it... and turned himself into a likely future president.
I have long thought that the problem with the same-sex marriage matter (which is not the most important problem on the nation's agenda), was that its advocates were flat-footed amateurs at the great American game of using our history, culture and values to get something you want, something others may not want to yield. Such situations scream for a fresh look... and a fresh, keen, credible leader... a person who knows the game and plays it joyously con brio, with the verve and style displayed in Reynolds' great masterpiece.
Andrew Cuomo is that person and every one of the approximately 45,000 same-sex couples in New York should be required by love (if not by law) to toast this consummate political animal at their weddings, which can begin to take place July 24, 2011.
The 56th governor of New York, a sure-fire Democratic heavyweight.
The way Andrew Cuomo, who only assumed his high office January 1, 2011, handled the bug-a-boo of same-sex marriage displays political wisdom and skill of the first magnitude, because gay marriage is and always has been a political problem; a political matter masquerading as morality... when it was always about who gets what, just the way most American moral matters are.
Let's set the stage...
Two years ago, the New York legislature defeated same-sex marriage. One major reason for this humiliating set-back was the lack of leadership. Gay advocates were mostly gay people whose special pleading often sounded whiney with non-existent organizational skills and no "go -to" leader in sight. It all made for an inevitable result: defeat. Gay leaders got a pie in the face and learned a harsh lesson about politics the New York way... a brand-new approach was called for.
Andrew Cuomo's election at governor in November, 2010, to the office once held by his father, started the ball rolling. He told gay leaders he was the go-to guy... and that he'd call the shots and give them victory. (He glossed over all the goodies he'd accrue... including the lifetime right to dip into the huge financial resources of gay Americans in pursuit of La Casa Blanca.)
I don't know precisely what was in Cuomo's mind at that point but I can guess. He knew -- or had to know -- that same-sex marriage opponents had no case; or, rather that their case was based on denying their fellow citizens the very right they themselves had: the right to select the person you want to marry and spend your life with. The entire opposition stood for everything we abhor: getting told by others what we can and cannot do, what is right and what is wrong, and being grateful for an inherently unequal second-class citizenship.
Oh yes, don't forget to bow your head , tug your forelock and say "merci, m. le marquis", while eating his dust while he throws you a couple of doubloons for which you are supposed to be eternally grateful. Can anyone say "Bastille"?
Cuomo, smart, smart, smart, cast the debate in terms of personal freedom, the "Don't treat on me" message of the revolutionary flag. Having forged the message, Cuomo -- audace, audace, toujours l'audace -- shopped it, to broaden support for the measure. The people he approached were not the people you'd think; they were the people he needed to secure his argument and get the votes... and they were called... Republicans. Yeah, the supposed enemy.
He convened a meeting with Republicans who were squeamish about the discriminatory position the Roman Catholic hierarchy and other unenlightened folk were forcing on them, the policy of "I've got my main squeeze, I'll make sure you can't have yours". This wasn't a case; it was adolescent one-upsmanship pure and simple... and it made some influential GOP types squirm with dismay and embarrassment. Cuomo made them a offer...
Admit it, he said. You feel uncomfortable supporting people who want to deny some of their fellow countrymen the very rights they have themselves. The guests admitted that was so; they felt like heels. Cuomo says, exactly. So, here's what we can do: you support same-sex marriage in the legislature, cough up some bucks to finance the effort, and I'll cover you back in your districts. A straight political deal of the kind practiced by their excellencies the governors of New York since Johnny Burgoyne handed them, on his silver platter, the state house... that famous launching pad for so many to the White House.
Just who was at that pivotal meeting and later discussions is not entirely known (the name of billionaire Paul Singer is mentioned and he has an openly gay son)... nor does it matter much. The point is Cuomo had a goal; Cuomo had a message; Cumo had a strategy...and in due course, a triumphant Governor Andrew Cuomo had a victory. The New York state senate, 33-29 joined its House of Representatives to pass the bill that will get, in a suitably grand and significant ceremony, the governor's John Hancock. Signed, sealed and delivered, as promised.
New York's action is critical; it gives the cause major momentum, unstoppable now. And so is Cuomo. The most significant aspect of this victory may not be the thousands of couples it will benefit. It may be an oath that begins, " I, Andrew Cuomo, do solemnly swear...." He's humming "Don't Stop" under his breath right now; it's his favorite tune.