Columnists » Steve Weinstein

Powerful Politician Endorses Gay Rights

by Steve Weinstein
Tuesday May 9, 2006

Joseph Bruno told a gathering of the Empire State Pride Agenda in Albany that he is in favor of granting equal rights to gay citizens. At this stage of the game, in one of the most (nominally) liberal states in the most liberal part of the country, this would hardly be news.

But Bruno isn't just another politician. As the longtime head of the New York State Senate, he is one of the three most powerful politicians in the state. Along with Governor George Pataki and the head of the State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, he is responsible for any legislation being made into law in this state. The entire system in Albany has been called by several good-government groups the most disfunctional in the country, with the three men making back-room deals and the rest of the Legislature going in lockstep. The result is a rubber-stamp parliament worthy of any 1950s Soviet Bloc "people's republic."

But such is the system we've been given, and, until the good people of the Empire State decide to reform the system and actually give the rank-and-file in both houses some real power, this is the way it is. So, we must bow to realpolitik and deal.

Bruno is a Repubilcan who represents a conservative district Upstate. For several years-decades-his obstinacy made New York one of ridiculous by not having a gay-rights law on the books. Finally, in this century, he granted it, as a partial payment for the Pride Agenda endorsing Pataki, also a Repubican, for re-election as governor.

Twelve years ago, Bruno was disparaging gay citizens and the entire gay-rights movement. His slow progress toward our side is most likely marked more by political realities than any "road to Damascus" realization that we are human beings deserving of the same respect and rights as anyone else. The fact is, gay New Yorkers have become increasingly influential in the political process both city- and statewide. The latest sign of this was Christine Quinn's elevation to speaker of the New York City Council, making her the second-most powerful politician in the city.

Even more importantly, out-gay donors and gay organizations like the Pride Agenda have become a steady source of poltiical donations. Since money is the milk of politics, any state politician ignores this at his own risk. There are two other important factors as well. Gay political clubs are active and can send out squadrons of volunteers-increasingly important in this "bowling alone" culture. And gay voters vote in numbers that rival Jews, traditionally the highest-percentage voting group in the state.

So Bruno has at long last bowed to political expediency and recognized the inevitable. According to news reports, he hasn't changed his opposition to gay marriage. But he is apparenlty willing to entertain a serious bill that would create parity for civil unions, along the lines of Connecticut, where the Republican governor signed a statewide civil-union bill into law. New Jersey also has a statewide civil union law, although gay groups complain that it is only near-beer compared to Connecticut and California.

With New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ontario and Vermont all having some form of statewide gay union recognition, the handwriting is on the wall. Even in New York State, where the glacial pace of political change is measured in geologic eras, Bruno must have seen the inevitable and decided that it's better to join than be licked by them.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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