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There is a lesson in the matter of Republican New York State Sens. Stephen Saland, Roy McDonald and Mark Grisanti, and it is a hopeful one. What these courageous men proved is that while it can be risky to cross your political party, even on a matter of conscience, it is also possible to do that and survive.
The three Republicans all defied their party, as well as the influential Conservative Party, to vote with Democrats last year to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. They did so because they could not, in good conscience, continue to tolerate the discriminatory practice of denying same-sex couples the legal protections of marriage.
We have no doubt that in years or decades to come, Americans will shake their heads and wonder what the fuss was about, just as they do now with considering African-Americans to be fully human, or allowing women to vote or sanctioning interracial marriages. No church was being forced to perform marriages against its beliefs. This merely said the government could not continue to discriminate against same-sex couples.
New York wasn't fully to that stage last year, though. While the Assembly easily approved the legislation, the State Senate vote was going to be close. The Republicans who barely controlled the Senate overwhelmingly opposed the bill. In voting for it, Saland of Poughkeepsie, McDonald of Troy and Grisanti of Buffalo understood they were putting their political careers at risk. Indeed, the Conservative Party specifically pledged to do its part to see them defeated.
Whatever happened next to these men, New Yorkers who care about civil rights and equality had to be cheered by the political courage these men demonstrated. And they did pay a price. All three were challenged in primary elections this year and two of them - Saland and Grisanti - won.
Only McDonald lost, and it was close vote. The result was announced only on Wednesday in an election that came down to the absentee ballots cast. For him, apparently, there was no choice but to vote to allow same-sex couples to be accorded a right that other Americans have: to marry. A combat veteran of the Vietnam War, he bluntly declared that if opponents wanted to vote him out over a difficult vote of conscience, "they can take this job and shove it."
It may not be the kind of language one expects to hear from a senator, but it's the kind of stand New Yorkers, and all Americans, should expect from their elected state and federal officials.
Saland and Grisanti, meanwhile, still face a general election that could cost them their seats. But they showed that, at least as an intra-party matter, it is possible to do the right thing and survive. That's enough for today.