New N.Y. Pro-Gay Marriage Ads Target Voters

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday September 14, 2010

In the wake of New York State lawmakers failing to pass a bill that would have brought state-level parity to gay and lesbian families, marriage equality advocates are appealing to voters with a series of commercials, reported the New York Times on Sept. 13.

The ads address voters directly. In one, actress Julianne Moore identifies herself as "a New Yorker" and says, "We are so close to equal marriage rights in New York. But we need your help." The ad is attributed to New Yorkers for Marriage Equality, which is an initiative of the Human Rights Campaign. Moore is the co-star, along with Annette Bening, of the film "The Kids Are All Right," in which Moore and Bening play a lesbian couple whose two teenagers reach out to their sperm donor father.

The New York Times reported that other ads will feature Rev. Al Sharpton and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The State Assembly passed a bill to allow marriage parity on four occasions; however, when the bill was finally allowed a vote in the state Senate, it was defeated 38-24--a much larger margin than hopeful proponents had thought likely.

The vote followed a stinging defeat for same-sex families in Maine, where marriage equality had been approved by lawmakers but was then rescinded at the ballot box last November. The measure would have needed 32 votes to pass, but not all of the state Senate's 32 Democrats favored the bill and no Republicans voiced support for the measure.

"There is a school of thought which says that unless you have 32 votes, you shouldn't pull a bill on the floor," said the Senate's majority leader, Pedro Espada, Jr., prior to the vote. "There's also an equally valid school of thought that says we should put it up for a vote and live with the results."

One of the results was the creation of a new marriage equality advocacy group, Fight Back New York, which was established to promote the candidacies of pro-marriage incumbents and challengers. One of the group's first targets was disgraced state lawmaker Hiram Monserrate, who was expelled from the senate only to then enter the special election that was held to fill his seat.

Fight Back New York invited equality-minded New Yorkers to "get even" instead of stewing about the results of a Senate vote late last year. In the vote, legislators who had previously vowed their support deserted the cause of marriage equality and cast their votes against the bill; Monserrate was one such lawmaker, and Fight Back New York reminded voters of this.

"Hiram Monserrate is one of the 38 State Senators who voted no on the marriage equality bill on December 2, 2009," read text at the Web site of Empire State Pride Agenda, a New York-based GLBT equality organization. "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 added.

"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 adds. "Our candidate in the March 16 Special Election is popular Assemblymember José Peralta, who has consistently voted in favor of marriage equality, transgender civil rights and other important LGBT issues." The site goes 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 reads. "Join us in taking out Hiram Monserrate and electing Jose Peralta."

"One Down"

Monserrate embraced his role as the anti-LGBT equality candidate, aligning himself with local anti-gay pastors and campaigning on the issue of marriage for gays and lesbians. The sexuality of his opponent, the openly gay Assemblyman José Peralta, also became a campaign issue, with Monserrate calling Peralta the "puppet of rich gay fanatics." In the end, however, Monserrate lost his re-election bid. "One Down, Seven to Go," Fight Back New York posted at its site. That number has since dwindled to six, because another Democratic senator who voted against the marriage equality measure, George Onorato, will be retiring after his current term.

Now, three more Democratic lawmakers who opposed the bill have been targeted by marriage equality advocates, the Times reported. The Human Rights Campaign is investing considerable financial wherewithal into helping defeat William Stachowski of Buffalo, Shirley L. Huntley of Queens and Rubén Díaz, Sr., of the Bronx. Díaz has been particularly active in opposing the bill, organizing rallies and appearing with anti-gay clerics. The three lawmakers will have to defeat challengers in the Sept. 13 primary, and then win the general election in November to hold on to their seats.

"When the New York state Senate voted on marriage equality last December, we lost by 8 votes," text at the HRC website tells readers. "To win, we need to change the math by defeating those senators who voted against us."

John Sampson, the Senate Democratic leader, endorsed the six Democrats who voted against marriage equality, along with all the other Senate Democrats, reported the New York Daily News on Aug. 9. His blanket endorsement angered LGBT advocates, who took Sampson to task for it at a meeting between the senator and the Stonewall Democratic Club, a Democratic group favoring LGBT equality. Sampson himself voted for the measure, but he has been unwilling to commit to another vote for the measure. LGBT equality activists, on the other hand, want to see another vote in the State Senate soon.

Meantime, gay support for Democratic lawmakers has dried up, the New York Daily News said, and those dollars are going to pro-equality challengers. "We don't want any quiet whispering in a back room saying, 'This is going to happen.' We've been there before," Corey Johnson, an LGBT equality advocate, told the newspaper. "We want an explicit statement saying marriage equality will be brought for a vote and our end of the bargain in the gay community is to elect more marriage-equality senators, which I think we'll be able to do."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.