State Sen. Carl Kruger provided a key vote when the New York legislature recently legalized gay marriage. According to the New York Times, his girlfriend's gay nephew had lobbied him heavily and cut off relations after Kruger opposed the measure two years ago. "I don't need this," the lawmaker said, explaining his change of mind. "It has gotten personal now."
This is the real story behind New York's historic decision. Individual by individual, family by family, the issue of same-sex marriage has gotten personal for a growing number of Americans. Including us.
Take our young friend Garth, who writes for the New York website Gothamist. When Garth's mother and father were dying, his partner Woody helped care for them both. And after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the marriage bill into law, Garth posted a message for Woody on the website.
"You make me a better person," he wrote. "You keep me sane. You make me happy. If you weren't around, I simply don't know how I would have made it through all we've been through in the last five years. What can I say? I love you. And now that it's legal in the state where I want to raise our children, I have to ask: Woody? Will you be my husband?"
Gay marriage is no longer an abstraction or a stereotype. It's not a matter of religion or ideology. It's a matter of real people, like Garth and Woody, living and loving and committing themselves to each other. They are not "undermining" the institution of marriage (in the words of New York's Catholic bishops); they are doing exactly the opposite. They are reinforcing the institution by wanting to be part of it. And that helps explain why public opinion is changing so swiftly.
For the first time, several national polls now show a clear majority in favor of gay marriage. ABC News reports a "dramatic, long-term shift in public attitudes," with public support rising from 32 percent to 53 percent in just seven years. Moreover, the trend will certainly accelerate. For Americans in their 30s, 65 percent support gay marriage; between 18 and 29, the number is even higher.
Gay couples are now our friends, neighbors, colleagues. At dinner the other night, our great-nieces talked casually about classmates who have "two dads." Relatives recently sold their house to a gay couple with three kids. In her last job, our daughter's boss had two children with her female partner.
A few years ago, we supported civil unions for gay couples but thought marriage was an overreach. No longer. It's now personal for us, too. Our young friends, like Keith and Gary, have changed our minds. They have been saving for years to afford a child, sacrificing vacations and meals out and home repairs in order to pay a surrogate mother.
"Why are we doing this?" says Keith. "I guess it's the same reason everyone does. We want to create a family and we can provide a really great home to a child. We've thought long and hard about this, and we know we won't be a 'typical' family. But these days, what's normal? Family, much less marriage, is about more than mere biology. It's about relationships, and commitment and nurturing and creating a home for the next generation."
The stories coming out of New York have a similar ring. Many key players were simply motivated by experience. Gov. Cuomo's companion, Sandra Lee, has a gay brother; Mayor Mike Bloomberg's niece Rachel is a lesbian. As Bloomberg told Frank Bruni of the New York Times, "It brings it home."
Yes, it does. When we were getting married almost 45 years ago, we had to battle a different form of prejudice. Steve is Jewish, Cokie is Catholic, and in that era, interfaith marriages were far less common than they are today. Steve's father, in particular, was deeply unsettled by the match and wrote his son a letter saying Steve would be a "stranger" in his own home if he married Cokie.
We spent a lot of time, and a lot of tears, convincing his dad that we could make this work, and he finally told Steve, "You know, it would be a lot easier opposing this marriage if it weren't so obvious she's the perfect girl for you."
Well, Garth has found the perfect man for him, someone who makes him feel sane and happy and loved. Isn't that what marriage is all about? Or should be?
Email Steve and Cokie Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.