JESSICA BADER: For my parents’ generation, major historical moments always seemed to have the question “where were you when…?” attached. Even for me and my peers, things that took place before online social networking was the all-encompassing force that it is today, “where were you when…?” still mattered. But for recent paradigm-shifting events such as the election of Barack Obama, the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, and Friday’s passage of marriage equality in the state of New York, that question seems archaic. That we were checking Facebook and Twitter and instantly seeing how so many other people were reacting, even as many of us were celebrating in the streets, became part of how we experienced these events. Following the torrent of tweets and status updates Friday night reinforced my belief that this was both a huge tipping point and really not a big deal.
New York is not the first state to permit same-sex couples to marry. It’s not even the first to do so through legislative rather than judicial means. What makes New York’s passage of marriage equality so important is that it is by far the largest state to enact this policy, which perhaps understates the sheer numerical impact as the state likely has a higher proportion of gay residents than the national average. New York City is also the media capitol of the world. When our congressmen make poor decisions with their smartphones, natural disasters elsewhere in the country get swept off of front pages and cable news. When our sports teams do something even remotely interesting or controversial, good luck hearing about anything else on SportsCenter. And when our state takes action on one of the big issues of the day, it dominates the national conversation. When the marriage equality law goes into effect next month, the first same-sex couples to get their licenses will be all over the news media. This will advance the conversation about marriage equality elsewhere in the country, particularly in other blue states that have a plausible path to enacting it.
And yet, as important as this is, as many passions as it stirs, to those of us born after 1980 it’s no big deal. Reading about the strategy behind the vote, it struck me how having a gay relative was such a big factor for many of the key political players. For these generations that grew up with the closet, knowing an openly gay person isn’t so common, and for those who don’t know someone personally affected gay marriage is an abstract philosophical question or political calculation. For my generation, where people tend to be much more open about who they are at a much younger age, it’s largely a matter of “some of my high school classmates don’t have the same rights as I do, and that’s just wrong.” I think that knowing of openly gay peers from so early on is a huge reason why millenials as a group are so supportive of LGBT equality even as it’s a controversial issue for their parents’ generation and strongly opposed by their grandparents’.
So, where was I when my state passed marriage equality? On Facebook, liking the status of a girl I went to elementary school with who was so happy that when she finds the woman she wants to spend the rest of her life with they will be able to get married in the state she’s proud to call home. On Twitter, where my thoroughly apolitical younger brother said “Good job NY! Shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.” And in my own head, imagining the day in the not-so-distant future when same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states and this is not a groundbreaking development but just how things are.
HOWARD MEGDAL: I agree with Jessica big-picture, but I wanted to zero in on the legitimate Cuomo 2016 chatter that comes from such a powerful achievement.
I think Steve Kornacki is right in that as of today, Cuomo has everything he needs to run for an open Democratic primary. And getting gay marriage passed and signed is the kind of entrance-to-the-party key that a guy like Tim Pawlenty is missing this time around for the GOP. It is an easy reason for a bunch of people in your base to latch on. It is Barack Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War. He got on the right side of the issue for his base, and he did it first.
Alas, the other supporting reason for Cuomo looking so strong in 2016 is his ability to avoid the kind of traps in Albany that have kept New York governors from reaching even a national ticket since Thomas E. Dewey. And that’s the big worry. It could simply be that Cuomo has the magical ability to end infighting the way Obama’s supporters hoped he would.
But when a region prone to earthquakes goes six months without one, the likelihood isn’t that the fault line moved. It means we are due for an earthquake.
If Cuomo dodges that for another five years, rolling through achievements, it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone stopping him. And as someone who, until recently, still held out out-of-date hope that Mario Cuomo would run every four years, that suits me just fine.
But isn’t it even harder to imagine New York running efficiently for six years straight?