NY Marriage Equality On Hold for Now

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Dec 2, 2010

Outgoing New York Gov. David Paterson has decided not to press for marriage equality legislation from state lawmakers before he leaves office.

Paterson had gauged whether state lawmakers might consider granting New York's gay and lesbian families marriage parity during a lame duck session, but upon hearing that such legislation wouldn't stand a chance, he decided to leave the issue alone.

The New York Assembly had approved marriage equality legislation four times before the State Senate took up the issue a year ago and voted it down. State Sen. Thomas K. Duane had indicated that there was adequate support to get the measure passed, but in the end, the state's senators rebuffed the measure, voting 38-24 to reject the bill on Dec. 2, 2009.

The outcome capped a drawn-out and dramatic series of maneuvers and political shakeups. Marriage supporters slammed the final vote, with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer--himself heterosexual--noting at the time, "Only the State Senate could snatch defeat from the jaws of pride and progress."

Added Stringer, "We will keep fighting, and in the end, equal justice will prevail."

But not quite yet. A Dec. 1 New York Times article said that Paterson had left marriage off the table when the state's lawmakers re-convened on Nov. 30 for a final session before the start of the new year. The state Senate, which never took up the issue when GOP lawmakers were in charge, will most likely revert to Republican control, the article said.

Paterson blamed "lobbyists" for the bill's failure to pass last year, remarking during a Dec. 1 appearance at Manhattan's Yale Club that the timing had not been right, and that proponents had pushed too soon for marriage parity.

Even so, the outgoing governor said that he had taken measure of the political climate to see whether it would be constructive to "take one more shot at marriage equality," the article reported, before going on to say that at least one senior policymaker told the Times that he had not heard about Paterson polling lawmakers to judge the level of support a bill might receive a year after the senate rejected it.

Even the bill's champions saw little point in revisiting the issue right now. "What's not clear is why today is different than any other day," Democratic Assemblyman Daniel J. O'Donnell, who had spearheaded last year's repeated passage in the Assembly, told the publication.

Paterson had a simply remedy for the problem. "Get rid of the lobbyists," he told his audience at the Yale Club, going in to say that pro-marriage activists "get enthralled by being involved in the whole legislative process" to the detriment of their own cause. "The lobbyists literally forced the vote," Paterson opined.

"It was a frustrating, difficult and emotional time for lots of people," the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, Ross D. Levi, told the media. "We know it was for Governor Paterson, as well, because of his deep personal commitment to this issue."

That commitment is still strong; said Paterson, "It's probably the one issue that I will keep replaying in my mind because I really wanted it to happen on my watch as governor. But I will come back--free of charge, by the way--to lobby the next time it comes up."

Marriage parity for all New York families is almost certain to be an issue once newly elected lawmakers join the ranks of the State Senate and the Assembly. Gov.-Elect Andrew Cuomo embraced the cause of GLBT equality from the get go, indicating that if a marriage equality bill is sent to him by lawmakers, he will approve it. In his victory speech, Cuomo touched upon the issue briefly, saying, "Yes, we are gay and we are straight. But we are one state because we are New York."

"It's really exciting," said open lesbian Christine Quinn, who serves a speaker for the New York city council. "To have a governor who not just supports marriage equality but says he is going to sign a marriage equality bill sends a message to the legislators that they need to get the job done and get it done soon."

Other lawmakers have indicated that the issue is in for a fresh look. Though the marriage bill did not attract a single Republican supporter in the State Senate last year, GOP State Sen. Dean Skelos pledged that the chamber would vote on marriage equality if Republicans regained control of the New York Senate.

Activists--lobbyists among them--are hardly going to abandon the effort to usher marriage. GLBT equality group Fight Back New York, which was formed in the aftermath of last year's State Senate vote, endorsed Cuomo in last month's elections, and rallied voters to defeat anti-gay State Sen. Frank Padavan.

Text at the Fight Back New York site read, "Padavan has helped lead the charge for the passing an anti-gay so-called 'defense of marriage act' in New York State. He doesn't even believe that same-sex couples deserve civil unions."

Fight Back New York had also targeted other state lawmakers who had voted against the bill, particularly legislators who had previously vowed their support but then deserted the cause of marriage equality and cast their votes against the bill. One political figure who did just that and felt Fight Back New York's wrath was Hiram Monserrate, who was tossed out of the State Senate, only to run for his old seat in the special election to replace him.

Fight Back New York was not alone in seeking to ensure that Monserrate failed in his bid to regain office. "Hiram Monserrate is one of the 38 State Senators who voted no on the marriage equality bill on December 2, 2009," text at the Web site of Empire State Pride Agenda, a New York-based GLBT equality organization, read. "Not only did he vote no, but he broke his previous commitment to support marriage equality when it came to the Senate floor for a vote," the text continued.

"Monserrate was convicted last year of assaulting his girlfriend, which led to his recent expulsion from the State Senate. But now he's running to try to get back into the Senate," the text added. "Our candidate in the March 16 Special Election is popular Assembly member Jose Peralta, who has consistently voted in favor of marriage equality, transgender civil rights and other important LGBT issues." The site went on to encourage readers to donate, declaring, "This is our first chance to replace an anti-LGBT Senator with a strong, pro-LGBT Senator. Every dollar that you contribute will go to making sure this shameful legislator does not return to the State Senate.

"If you're mad about the December 2 marriage vote, now is the time to get even," the text read. "Join us in taking out Hiram Monserrate and electing Jose Peralta." Though it's unclear to what extent Monserrate's change of position on marriage affected the outcome, he lost to Peralta in the special election.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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