Ultimately, gay couples will be able to marry because of two previously undecided Republicans from upstate regions far more conservative than the New York City base of the gay rights movement.Some of these senators have put their careers on the line to cast this vote, and I don't expect it will turn out well for them. No doubt many longtime, liberal supporters of gay marriage will look at these Republicans and say, "Well, duh! It's about time!" Yet as a conservative supporter of civil same-sex marriage, I know what it's like to experience that dawning upon your conscience, when everything you once thought to be true and right is being challenged within your own mind, and you realize that this new idea which you once opposed is actually more true to your sense of morality and decency than your former position. It is an unsettling and frightening realization, particularly when you picture yourself trying to explain how you came to this "new moral conviction" that also happens to take sides with the half-naked guys parading down Castro Street with nothing on but their nipple rings and leather jock straps. Can't wait to get up in front of everyone and make a speech about this one.
Sen. Stephen Saland, 67, voted against a similar bill in 2009, helping kill the measure and dealing a blow to the national gay rights movement. On Friday night, gay marriage supporters wept in the Senate gallery as Saland explained how his strong, traditionally family upbringing led him to embrace legalizing gay marriage.
"While I understand that my vote will disappoint many, I also know my vote is a vote of conscience," Saland, of Poughkeepsie, said in a statement to The Associated Press before the vote. "I am doing the right thing in voting to support marriage equality.
Also voting for the bill was freshman Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican who also had been undecided. Grisanti said he could not deny anyone what he called basic rights.
"I apologize to those I offend," said Grisanti, a Roman Catholic. "But I believe you can be wiser today than yesterday. I believe this state needs to provide equal rights and protections for all its residents," he said.
Speaking of which, you are now faced with a choice. It would be so easy to hide what's going on inside your own mind and heart. If you did, you can keep your religious conservative friends, all the people who love and respect and support you; and if you're a senator these are the people to whom you owe your political career. Or you can dare to be "wiser today than yesterday," as Sen. Grisanti said, and risk losing everything. Hats off to those senators who dared. Whatever happens to them in the future, I trust that today they are at peace with themselves.