FUMO SPEAKS OUT AGAINST GAY MARRIAGE AMENDMENT
HARRISBURG, MAY 5, 2008 -- State
Senator Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia) spoke today at a rally in the rotunda of the
state Capitol, in opposition to Senate Bill 1250, the so-called marriage
protection amendment. Several hundred people attended the event.
The bill would amend the state Constitution to exclude same sex couples from enjoying the rights of marriage, or unions that are the functional equivalent of marriage. Fumo argued that it would embed discrimination within the state Constitution.
Following is the text of his remarks:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, we are all homosexuals. You, me, every legislator, every staff member, every visitor to this Capitol, is gay. Because we are all Americans. We are all Pennsylvanians. And when the basic human rights of any group are threatened, then no one’s rights are safe.
Forty-five years ago next month, President John F. Kennedy stood before the Berlin Wall and pronounced in his famous speech, "Ich bin ein Berliner,” He told the people of Germany that he and all free men, wherever they live, were citizens of Berlin. He told them that although they bore the physical and emotional suffering, that burden was not just theirs alone, but was “an offense against humanity.”
He told them in that speech: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.”
So in that spirit, I stand here today in solidarity with you. And I stand here knowing that freedom is at risk in this building. Although I hope we do not see it happen, it is possible that a legislative body could vote to embed discrimination in our constitution by taking away the rights of a particular group of people, based upon their sexual orientation.
I stand here today as someone who has placed great value on the guarantees of our constitution from a very young age, because I personally felt the sting of discrimination. Although no one tried to take my rights away by legislative fiat, I was often treated as someone different, someone who did not enjoy the same status as other Americans, because I was of Italian descent, with an Italian last name. Other children at the school I attended were not allowed to come to my birthday parties because I was an Italian kid from South Philly. My family, my ethnic group, and where I lived was looked down upon. There were certain places we were not welcome.
So I don’t have to imagine discrimination; I lived it growing up, which is one reason that the promises of freedom and equality in our Constitution were more than just a civics class for me. It was personal.
I grew up to put great stock in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, who said all men are entitled to life, liberty and -- think about the meaning of this phrase regarding the current debate – the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson, who observed in 1789 in a letter to James Madison that, “The tyranny of the legislature is the most formidable dread at present, and will be for many years.” How prophetic. That warning is just as valid today as it was more than 200 years ago.
The fears expressed by Jefferson and Madison and other founding fathers were behind the Constitution that forms the basis of our government. They understood that the tyranny of the majority represents the greatest threat to individual liberty in any society. That is why they insisted on a Constitution that guarantees the rights of minorities. Our Pennsylvania Constitution is supposed to do the same. Yet, an effort is underway in this building to distort the purpose of that sacred document by using it to take rights away, rather than protect them.
I made a comment last week about this General Assembly and slavery. As I later said, I was exaggerating to make a point, that just because a majority approves something, that doesn’t make it right. I understand why my comments were upsetting to some people, and why some people may have been offended.
And yet, there will be votes cast in the Senate this week, perhaps not literally to enslave anyone, but nevertheless to relegate some people to second class citizenry by preventing them from enjoying the rights of union as a loving couple. It is wrong.
I’m not the first to draw parallels between discrimination that is based on race and on sexual orientation.
Coretta Scott King pointed out that her late husband: “Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
Julian Bond, former chair of the NAACP, has said: “Many gays, many lesbians, worked side by side with me in the civil rights movement. Am I supposed to tell them now, thanks for risking their lives and their limbs to help me win my rights but that they are excluded because of circumstances of their birth. Not a chance.”
Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said: “I could not for any part of me be able to keep quiet, because people were penalized, ostracized, treated as if they were less than human because of something they could do nothing to change – their sexual orientation. For me, I can’t imagine the Lord that I worship, this Jesus Christ, actually concurring with the persecution of a minority that is already being persecuted.”
Rev. Peter Gomes, an African-American and the chaplain at Harvard, said: “If society waited for majority opinion and legislative action, African-Americans, for example, would still be enduring the indignities of separate but equal accommodation and other manifestations of legal, social and political segregation….To extend the civil right of marriage to homosexuals will neither solve nor complicate the problems already inherent in marriage, but what it will do is permit a whole class of persons, our fellow citizens, under the law heretofore irrationally deprived of a civil right, both to benefit from and participate in a valuable yet vulnerable institution which in our changing society needs all the help it can get.”
We should not forget that it was by majority vote, that slavery was imposed in this County;
it was by majority vote that persons of different races were forbidden to marry;
it was by majority vote that women were denied the right to vote and hold public offices;
it was by majority vote that poll taxes and ID requirements were imposed on the poor and African-Americans who wanted to vote;
it was by majority vote that the government is now allowed to listen to your phone conversations and review your financial records;
And as we contemplate Senate Bill 1250, keep in mind that:
it CAN be by majority vote that a free press may be censored;
it CAN be by majority vote persons may be presumed guilty;
it CAN be by majority vote that unpopular religious beliefs maybe outlawed;
it CAN be by majority vote that individual property may be taken without compensation;
it CAN be by majority vote that warrant-less searches may be allowed; and
it CAN be by majority vote that the last protections of individual liberties and equal protection under law are swept aside.
All these things CAN happen if the full and equal rights under the Constitution are not guaranteed to all.
Keep up the fight. You are not just doing it for yourselves, but for everyone who needs the protection of the Constitution.
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