08. Final Paper (Chicago 2)

Morality First

     Freedom. One word, but a thousand different connotations. A word that defines nations, unites people, and changes lives. People give their lives for freedom, the word that separates the courageous and bravehearted from the indifferent and apathetic. A word that means rights are guaranteed, that free will, free speech, and free religion exist. Freedom however, at this point and time, is not universally applicable in a legislative sense, to marriage rights. Freedom is a word that Senator Roy McDonald upheld as he declared his support of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in New York. As Helen Kennedy noted, Roy McDonald is “... a conservative upstate pol, a soft-spoken grandfather, a steelworker-made-good who spent years in local politics pushing recognition for veterans, autism awareness and property tax cuts” (2011, 1). Until last June, McDonald was a typical conservative senator, proposing public work projects and rallying for helpful social programs. That is, until he “became the second GOP senator in two days to say he now supports same-sex marriage(Yancey 2011, 1). Suddenly, with one decision, Roy McDonald became a controversial figure.

     Politics are often dominated by party lines, with votes that are dictated not according to personal opinion, but according to a party platform. Often, constituents themselves can suffer, simply due to the party politics. In America today, one can essentially commit political suicide by deciding to vote according to his or her own values, rather than their party. Corruption is widespread in politics, with courageous acts seemingly few and far between. Courage is essentially found when someone upholds their own beliefs over all else, and does what is right, rather than what others think is right. Roy McDonald made this decision, a decision to support a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, and was responsible for making the bill one vote away from becoming law in the state of New York ("Mahalo News" 2011). The very topic of the bill, same-sex marriage, is debatable for both the Republicans and the Democrats as well. “For Senate Republicans, even bringing the measure to the floor was a freighted decision" (Confessore and Barbaro 2011, A1). Same-sex marriage is a hot topic that is widely debated among both homosexuals and heterosexuals. "Marriage, it seems, has always been at the heart and center of political trauma" (Sullivan 1997, XVII). Author Jonathan Rauch notes the difficulty among both groups to relate to one another, “As hard as it is now for heterosexuals to imagine life without marriage, that is how hard it was, until comparatively recently, for homosexuals to imagine life with marriage" (Rauch 2004, 3). This is a fact of the differences in relationships, but as for McDonald himself, he has commented on his contentious decision, “I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing”(Kennedy 2011, 1). This courageous senator’s decision to disregard traditional political conformity, and to base his decisions on his own values, even above other constituents who disagree, is a bold decision that should be commended. As John F. Kennedy noted in Profiles in Courage, “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality" (1956, 225). The decision was not an easy one for McDonald, who has since faced both praise and fierce opposition, "caught some of his constituents by surprise, pleased some and angered others" (Hornbeck 2011, 1).  Other politicians note about McDonald’s controversial decision, “I'm not sure it gets him votes, but it could cost him" (Hornbeck 2011, 1).  McDonald faces the very real threat of losing vital support, as, "Leaders of the state’s Conservative Party, whose support many Republican lawmakers depend on to win election, warned that they would oppose in legislative elections next year any Republican senator who voted for same-sex marriage" (Confessore and Barbaro 2011, A1). Despite the very real threat of losing votes and public favor, the results of which will be seen in time, McDonald made a courageous decision to uphold his own beliefs above all else.
     The issue of same-sex marriage can divide all people, for moral, ethical, and religious reasons. As early as 2006, Hull noted, "In contemporary American society, the meaning and boundaries of the marriage institution are up for grabs, in both cultural and legal terms" (1).  In modern society, with so many advancements and equality movements, the newest issue of current time are rights for marriage. Some members of the Senate were still undecided in their own stances, due to the “Intense and emotional campaign aimed at [these] handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes" (Confessore and Hakim 2011, A22). With such a controversial issue, it is not a guarantee that people will always be in agreement. Supporters of gay rights had feared for the worst, as “This year, with the Senate controlled by Republicans, the odds against passage of same-sex marriage appeared long" (Confessore and Hakim 2011, A22). The tendency of most political officials to follow party rank is due to their own selfish desires, to gain more voting favor, more financial sponsorship, and ultimately more power. This dangerous practice has lead to deadlocked parties in the Senate and House of Representatives, and a deadly lack of movement of any political issues.

     It is refreshing, and hopeful, to see a conservative politician change their view and their vote in favor of their own belief, risking political suicide in the process. True courage does not come from motivation, or superficial rewards, but from a deep desire inside someone to do what they feel is right- no matter what the cost is. In a time where politics can easily succumb to corruption, Roy McDonald stands out as a sharp contrast to other power driven political leaders who seek to only gain re-election. Although he did, "voted with other Republicans in a bloc in 2009 to defeat a similar bill," changes of heart are possible, even for politicians (Yancey 2011, 1)As his constituents noted, "It shows the human side of politics, and we don't always see that so clearly" ("Mahalo News" 2011). Personal beliefs are not usually associated with political stances or issues, due to the widespread practice of party politics. With good intentions, McDonald notes, “You get to the point where you evolve in your life, where everything is not black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing" (Hornbeck 2011, 1). It was not as easy for others to reach this decision, as fellow politicians had recognized the difficulty of reaching a vote, noting, "each member would be left to vote according to his or her conscience" (Confessore and Hakim 2011, A22). Other politicians had previously joined the campaign solely to gain votes, "[as] same-sex marriage moved to the front line of the culture war and politicians deployed the issue as a tool for energizing their base" (Confessore and Barbaro  2011, A1). This reflects the sole desire to gain more and more political favor, disregarding one's personal views. Although "there were moments of tension and frustration," during the decision period, McDonald displayed deep courage (Confessore and Barbaro 2011, A1)When freedom is upheld, positive change occurs, and step by step, slowly, beneficial outcomes can be seen.

Reference List

Confessore, Nicholas and Danny Hakim. 2011. " Gay Marriage Bill is One Vote Shy of Clearing State Senate." The New York Times, 
June 14.

Confessore, Nicholas and Michael Barbaro. 2011. “New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage, Becoming Largest State to Pass Law.” The 
New York Times, June 24.

Hornbeck, Leigh. 2011. “Praise, criticism for new stance.” Times Union, June 17. Accessed January 4, 2012. 

Hull, Kathleen E. 2006. Same-Sex Marriage: The Cultural Politics of  Love and Law. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Kennedy, Helen. 2011. “Conservative GOP State Sen. Roy McDonald hailed as hero for changing vote on gay marriage.” The New 
York  Daily News, June 16.

Kennedy, John F. 1956. Profiles in Courage. New York: HarperCollins.

Mahalo News. 2011. “Ny Senator Roy McDonald Defends Gay Marriage.” Youtube. June 17. Accessed January 2, 2012. 

Rauch, Jonathan. 2004. Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. New York: Henry Holt and 
Company, LLC.

Sullivan, Andrew. 1997. Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con. New York: Random House. 

Yancey, Roy. 2011. “1 More State Senator Supports Gay Marriage.” Newsday, June 14.