Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Favorite Speeches: Diane Savino on Gay Marriage

Photo by Salvatore Vuono
By Mary Clark

Same sex marriage has been a hot political issue for years now. It has even been compared to the fight to end segregation. It has put politics and religion at war against each other and has stirred up a passionate uprising on both sides of the issue. In 2009, the New York Senate assembled to debate the issue of legalizing same sex marriage in the state. From that session, came a little known Staten Island senator, Diane Savino, who gave one of the most moving, passionate speeches to date, showing the assembly the way she views the inequality of denying same sex marriages.

Diane Savino has been an advocate for the people of her state before she was elected to Senate. She was a caseworker for New York City Welfare Administration before her tenure in the Senate. She was part of the local labor union and fought for the first minimum wage increase in 10 years after being elected. And in December 2009, she took a stand in front of her fellow senators in support of same sex marriage rights. She opened her speech that day by verbalizing the tremendous weight of the issue with pathos stating that “Tens of thousands of New Yorkers’ lives are hanging in the balance. They are either going to go home today knowing that we made history here in New York State, or they’re going to go home incredibly disappointed – but certainly unbowed, and the struggle with continue.” Savino was pointing out that this is not some standard bill to be debated. This decision would impact the daily lives of the people who elected her, for better or for worse. She said that it is not a political decision that the Senate has to make but that it’s an issue of fairness. A fairness that would allow all people, regardless of sexual orientation to “have the protection of the government that grants those of us who have the privilege of marriage and treat it with such cavalierly in our society.” 

Then, Diane Savino took that step in politics that you’re not supposed to make; she made the issue relevant to her own life by referencing her personal friends and the openly gay Senators serving the state of New York with her and comparing their relationships with her own “straight” relationships. It made a very strong point using pathos. She started by stating that in her 40 plus years she had never had a stable relationship that would compare to the supportive, loving one she had witnessed with her gay friends. “…I have never been able to maintain a relationship of the length or quality that (Senator) Tom Dwayne and (his partner) Lewis have.” She even goes so far as to say that she is jealous of the bond they share saying “These are relationships I envy, and in fact, we should all envy.” Savino’s best friend, Matt Titone has been with his partner Josh and Diane said about their relationship “…they have a wonderful relationship, together fourteen or fifteen years now. And they are married in every sense of the word but the legal one." Ms. Savino is making the point that we shouldn’t view a relationship by the gender of the people in the relationship but rather the quality that relationship possesses. We should respect a partnership in which two people are undyingly loving and supportive and dedicated.

And all they were asking was for equal rights and to be treated fairly so they are able to “..plan for each other in the event that something happens to them the same way Senator Lancet does with his wife, Marcele…” That’s all the issue should boil down to. That a couple who want to spend their lives together have the legal right to protect the one they love. As the law stands now, gay couples who live in states that do not recognize civil unions or same sex marriage cannot make end of life decisions for their partner or have their children left in their custody in the case of a death of the legal adoptive or biological parent. These are the rights Diane Savino was fighting for.

The strongest opposition to same sex marriage is the religion factor. Rev. Duane R. Motley, a leader in the opposition for same sex marriage says, “God has defined what marriage is, and the government doesn’t have the right to redefine it.” Ms. Savino actually agreed, somewhat. Raised as a Roman Catholic, she tells the assembly that her church has the right to deny her marriage “…if they determine the person I choose to marry is unfit or the relationship doesn’t meet their standards. The government doesn’t have that right and under the bill she was fighting for, that would not have changed the discrimination the church has the right to possess. The bill was not meant to change the views of the religious community. Savino used logos to validate her point stating, “We in government don’t determine the quality or the validity of peoples’ relationships. If we did we would not issue three-quarters of the marriage licenses we do.” This ties back in with one of Savino’s earlier statements which is that the issue of same sex marriage should be viewed as legal right, not a political hotbed or an issue or religion preference, especially since we all come from different political and religious backgrounds.

The strongest point that Savino makes in her speech is when she addresses the issue of same sex marriage “ruining” the sanctity of marriage. This is one of my favorite arguments when talking about same sex marriage. Some people believe that merely by allowing a woman to legally marry another woman, or a man to another man, it would destroy the quality of heterosexual marriage. Savino relies heavily on logos when addressing this so-called argument. She states, “…what are we really protecting when you look at the divorce rate in our society?” Her argument is even further validated when she reflects on heterosexual society. “We are giving away husbands on a game show! You can watch “The Bachelor,” where 30 desperate women will compete to marry a 40-year-old man who has never been able to maintain a decent relationship in his life.” And she’s right. The argument that same sex marriage equality will ruin marriage is ludicrous when TV has turned marriage into a prize to be won through sex and emotional games. Society has taken the seriousness out of marriage.

Savino talks about how girls in today’s world dream about their wedding down to the last detail but ” They don’t spend five minutes thinking about what it means to be a wife.” Marriage isn’t about the union of two people who love each other and want to be protected by legal rights. It’s turned in to a show, a production, a party with no one really thinking about the consequences or the gravity of the situation. And with the most powerful statement of her entire speech, Savino closes the issue with a hard hitter, stating, “So if there’s anything wrong, any threat to the sanctity of marriage in America, it comes from those of us who have the privilege and the right, and we have abused it for decades.” Like many other things in our culture, when you are guaranteed a right, we tend to overlook its value. We splay on the front pages of our newspapers the most recent celebrity quickie marriage and just as quick divorce, because we can. It’s our right to marry quickly and decided just as fast that we don’t like the person we married and end it. But yet, a majority of people don’t want to extend that right to every single person just because of the gender of the person they chose to spend their life with.

Diane Savino ends her speech with a dose of pathos and logos together saying, “We have nothing to fear from people who are committed to each other who want to share their lives and protect one another in the event of sickness, illness, or death. We have nothing to fear from love and commitment.”

Diane Savino’s speech is one of the most logical and yet passionate speeches I have ever heard on the issue of gay marriage. Her use of logos and pathos made even the most head strong opposition at least listen. The way she stayed away from the subject of religion and politics is what set her speech apart, considering that she, herself, is a politician. Although the bill did not pass the New York Senate that day, Diane and her supporters have vowed not to give up.


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