Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Day at City Hall

Harry Jackson at City Hall on June 14

David Tyree is the former wide receiver who is best known for the late fourth quarter catch in Super Bowl XLII that set up the Giants’ game-winning touchdown. But when Tyree appeared at a June 14 rally opposing same sex marriage on the steps of the Big Apple’s City Hall, he was silent. All the trash talking was done by the civic and religious leaders who organized the event.

The Rev. Joseph Mattera, the senior pastor at Brooklyn’s Resurrection Church and the leader of a coalition of evangelical churches in the New York City area, quarterbacked this rally, but the star was Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in Maryland. Jackson is the leading African-American voice opposing gay marriage.

Jackson’s argument is that esbian and and gay couples have no legitimate claim on marriage and that those couples are a threat to the broader American society. 

“What we have today is a group of people trying to hitch hike on or highjack or take the legacy of the real civil rights movement and make it their own,” Jackson told the crowd of roughly 50 after first describing his father’s experience with racist violence. “Most African-Americans are incensed by this thus we find in every state a huge majority of African-American voters have voted against same sex marriage.”

The bishop’s compelling story about his father notwithstanding he does not own the rhetoric, principles and practices that were used in the civil rights movement.    

A variation on that theme was picked up by Chuck Stetson, a founder and managing director at PEI Funds, an investment firm, and a longtime opponent of gay marriage. In his view, allowing a subset, lesbian and gay couples, of an already small group, the broader community, to wed privileges them and somehow punishes everyone else in America.

“What are we doing this for?” Stetson asked rhetorically. “We’re doing this for three percent of the population and we are disadvantaging 97 percent.”

Married heterosexual couples, of course, enjoy some extraordinary federal tax advantages and other benefits that are not currently provided even to gay and lesbian couples who married in the five states and the District of Columbia where such unions are legal. Stetson’s analysis turned reality on its head. Nor does the US Constitution limit the rights contained in that document to groups of a certain size. No doubt the Mormon Church is grateful for that.

The madness began after the formal Q&A ended. Mind you, my bright yellow press pass was hanging around my neck. That I was asking questions, always respectfully, and taking pictures throughout the event was apparent to the participants. They knew I was a reporter.

Rev. Duane R. Motley, a senior lobbyist at New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, the conservative group that is leading the opposition to same sex marriage in New York, eventually asked what media outlet I was from. I said “Gay City News” and he quickly responded “We’re not against homosexuals. I have a lot of friends who are homosexuals.”

I never know what to make of that. Perhaps I should I say “Your wife’s hairdresser isn’t your friend.” Many on the right have taken to using that line, but no homosexuals have stepped forward to claim these conservatives as their BFFs. Perhaps I should insist on meeting these friends. Or maybe it is better to not know.

Once I had identified myself as a reporter from Gay City News, two very nice, but stern women hauled a third woman named Gretchen in front of me. I seems that Gretchen, 43, was raised by her mother and her mother’s female partner.

“My mother, she did the best job she could do, but the truth of it really was I was confused,” Gretchen said. “In my heart, I was confused...I was rejected from my father. My father wasn’t around.”

Gretchen reported having been sexually molested by two older girls when she was four or five and having lesbian relationships. It was not until Gretchen “found the love of my soul,” or Jesus Christ, that she was healed though not entirely. Gretchen allowed that she is still a “hot mess.” How is her relationship with her mother today?

“I speak to her all the time,” Gretchen said. Her mother found God 26 or 27 years ago when Gretchen was a teenager and her mother has been married to the same man since then. Gretchen was not there for the wedding because she had run away from home.

I did not want to delve deeply into Gretchen’s psyche, but it looked like this home was generally unstable. I took a shot. Would she attribute her hot messiness to her mother having been a lesbian or would she say there were multiple influences?

“I would say there were multiple,” Gretchen said. The two nice, but stern ladies who brought Gretchen to me stood by listening to the interview. They did not look happy with the answers. Gretchen was done, but I was not.

I began to leave the plaza in front of City Hall when my path was blocked by a tall well-dressed man who was carrying a Bible. I did not ask for his name or affiliation. He began to talk to me about genitalia, “fecal material,” prison rape, and how all of this was terribly confusing to young men. What confused me was that I was there to try and glean how the conservatives saw the expected gay marriage vote in Albany playing out. I told this man twice that that was my purpose. He was not interested. He kept on about genitalia, “fecal material,” prison rape, and confusion until he asked what media outlet I was from.

“Gay City News,” I said. The man shook my hand and bolted. Sometimes being from the gay press gets you in a jam and sometimes it gets you right out.

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