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My Car Ride With Rick Lazio

As a shuttle driver for a hotel in Buffalo, I dragged myself out of bed at 6am with as much strength and enthusiasm as an overworked college student could muster. I was not necessarily looking forward to work, although I am prone to meeting a variety of colorful characters from all corners of the world on a majority of my shifts. As a hurried man ran from a news crew in the lobby of the hotel to the back seat of the van I was to drive, I vaguely recognized the man, although I could not place him at first. As he slammed the door and called out, “My plane leaves in less than 30 minutes. Jet Blue,” I realized that I was in the presence of Rick Lazio, the man who rose to political fame a decade ago when he unsuccessfully ran against Hillary Clinton in the New York State’s 2000 Senate election. Most recently, he is dubbed by many to be the front-runner for the Republication nomination for the governor of New York.

As any educated, left-wing liberal would do, I cut right to the chase, knowing this would be the only time I would have access to the man who may possibly be elected governor : How do you feel about abortion? Health care reform? Gay rights?

Lazio was fairly clear on a variety of his stances, such as abortion: “I am pro-choice, however, I do not believe in federal funding or assistance.” While the other questions flowed with ease, the conservative Republican struck one of my nerves when I asked about his views involving equal rights and protection for those who identify with the LBGT community. He responded, “In regard to gay rights, I am against gay marriage. This has always been a union between man and woman.”

I considered this statement generalized, versed, and, to an extent, ignorant. The denial of marriage is only one of the countless discriminatory measures taken by conservative America in order to oppress a minority of the population. The issue of equal protection for homosexuals should not be lumped together into one generalization. I find it interesting that as a culture, one would not dare say, “I do not think African Americans or women should have the same rights as others.” One would be dubbed racist, sexist, and ignorant, along with a few other choice words. However, it is deemed socially acceptable to speak openly against limiting the rights of gay Americans, specifically on the topic of marriage. Given the fact that I was raised in a liberal and moderately unconventional family, I often think my imaginative ideals and goals to surpass those around me, but I never thought discrimination against a fellow human being could occur at such a large scale.

As one reflects on current discrimination in America, the roadblocks seem endless, ranging from monetary losses with inheritance tax to the refusal of same-sex visitation in the hospital, the latter of which President Obama, at the time, had overturned in the recent week. When I asked Lazio his view regarding this newfound development to civil rights, he stated, “Yeah, well, what is that again exactly?” As I relayed certain parts of this new legislation to the man who would like to be the new governor of New York, I wondered why Rick Lazio was so unfamiliar with such a landmark decision. Until recently, same-sex partners were denied the right of visitation, as illustrated by the case of Janice Langbehn, who was not allowed to be with her partner, Lisa Pond, while she lay dying in a Miami hospital. In the words of our president, the memorandum states that institutions must “guarantee that all patients’ advance directives, such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, are respected,” and that patients’ designees be able to “make informed decisions regarding patients’ care.” Lazio seemed uninformed of this development and did not seem to care.

When I asked if it was fair to deny two loving people from seeing one another in the hospital, he responded, “People need to be in their right state of mind when they are making these decisions. Otherwise, who knows what will happen in this type of environment.” The right state of mind? I would like to take an educated guess and conclude that the majority of the United States population would want to be in the company of their loved ones during a terrible illness or when they are approaching death, regardless of their sexual orientation. As stated perfectly by Langbehn, “This is not a gay right, this is a human right.” The pure act of the denial of visitation can be considered by some to be cruel and unusual punishment, not for a crime, but for not being part of the accepted sexuality.

Soon our short ride was over, we had reached the airport, and I did not have time for my final question, which was about the current state of the New York economy, and further, his plans for the improvement of the Western New York area. He stepped out, shut the door, and made a dash for the revolving doors. I must admit that I was slightly surprised that I did not receive a tip for my services from someone with a net worth of around ten million dollars—money that would have been spent in the area, contributing to the troubled regional economy. There is a fine line between frugal and cheap, but the gap between social acceptance and legalizing homophobic and oppressive legislature appears to be growing. First and foremost, we are human beings, regardless of our race, sex, and orientation, who should not support a political figure who denies the rights of any individual. I want people to recognize that we are on verge of a new civil rights movement in America. I am not asking you to change your religious views on homosexuality or raise a rainbow flag in your yard, but to stop and think the next time you cast a vote for a candidate in an upcoming election. There are always two sides of history, just make sure you can deal with what side you chose.

Jeffrey Hartinger


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