Former state Sen. Roy McDonald never imagined he would be cast with the characters of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage.”
The book, which the 66-year-old Republican read as a young student, catalogs eight occasions in American history where U.S. senators defied what was popular to stand up for what they thought was right. “Basically everybody was required to read it [in the early 1960s],” said McDonald, a town of Saratoga resident.
Fifty years later, students are still reading the book.
After Jamie Baer, a senior at Homestead High School in Indiana, finished reading the book, she was tasked with finding her own profile in courage to write about for her college-level composition course. She consulted with her cousin, a lawyer in New York City, to help determine a subject. In the course of brainstorming, her cousin mentioned the four Republican state senators who broke ranks with their party in the summer of 2011 to help make same-sex marriage legal in New York.
Baer, 18, researched the senators and settled on McDonald, who lost the 2012 Republican primary to Kathy Marchione because of his vote, as the subject for her essay. The essay got an A-plus and after some tinkering with the lead paragraph, it was selected as the 2013 winner of the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students.
“It really fit with the idea of a politician voting for what he believed was right, before considering his own political career,” said Baer, who was honored May 5 in Boston for her essay. “It was just the perfect situation.”
She wrote in her essay that “[McDonald] switched his position on same-sex marriage to protect the equality and dignity of the greater public; for this act, his reputation among his conservative constituents was irreversibly damaged.”
McDonald, who learned about the essay about a week ago, said he was “humbled” to be the focus of the essay. He added that Baer was a talented writer and said he planned to reach out to thank her for the kind words.
Baer gravitated to McDonald’s actions because same-sex marriage is an issue that resonates with her. She has friends who are openly gay and she finds the topic interesting.
Researching McDonald only made her more attracted to his example, as he was outspoken and bold about his decision once it was made public. In particular, she highlighted his infamous expletive-laden announcement of his support for same-sex marriage. “It just endeared me more to Roy McDonald,” Baer said.
McDonald says he has no regrets about supporting same-sex marriage and being ousted from his position.
He noted his vote wasn’t the only brave one, highlighting his three Republican colleagues, two of whom have since lost their Senate seats.
Not everyone sees McDonald’s vote as a profile in courage. Critics of the vote have charged that he voted in favor of same-sex marriage for political contributions and lied to his constituents about how he would vote.
“Some people agree with me,” McDonald said, “and some people disagree with me.”
In the long run, he does think his actions in history will be viewed as mostly positive.
Even now, working as a banker in Albany, he said, “It’s very common for people to come up and talk to me. They say nice things and I’m very humbled.”
Baer is planning to go to Indiana University in the fall to study business.
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