Marriage Equality Foes Target Lawmakers

by Michael Virtanen

Associated Press

Thursday June 30, 2011

A group that opposes gay marriage promised to spend at least $2 million to oust seven state senators who changed their positions to make New York the sixth state where same-sex unions are legal.

The Washington-based National Organization for Marriage said in a fundraising email to supporters that it is committed to helping elect majorities in 2012 that support marriage as being between only a man and a woman.

"In order to change policy on marriage, we're going to have to change personnel in Albany - starting with the turncoat senators who made promises to their constituents on marriage and then voted the opposite way," President Brian Brown wrote.

Brown, former executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, has also said his group wants to ensure the Senate Republicans who broke party ranks "understand that voting for gay marriage has consequences."

Many of the demonstrators who jammed the Capitol halls before last week's vote said the Bible defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and that legislators shouldn't attempt to alter that.

The four Republicans and three Democrats who changed their votes or positions were key in Friday's 33-29 vote. Only one Democrat among the 30 in the Senate, Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, voted against gay marriage. Diaz is a minister who opposes it on religious grounds.

The organization's solicitation showed the names and photographs of the seven senators, six of whom voted no in 2009 when an almost identical bill was defeated in Albany, 38-24, a surprisingly large margin and a stinging blow to the national gay rights movement. In the two years since, efforts have failed in New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and New York was viewed by advocates as a way to restart momentum.

The National Organization for Marriage, which worked to pass the California referendum to rescind legal gay marriage, wants to do the same in New York. It's not as easy to do in New York, which doesn't have a fast, easy way to bring measures directly to the ballot box. To change the constitution in New York, two separately elected legislatures have to approve a constitutional convention, meaning the earliest a referendum could happen is 2015. Brown knows it will be difficult but said the group will settle for nothing less.

"I am Catholic," he said. "I believe what my church teaches on marriage, but I believe it's profoundly reasonable, profoundly rational. Any person with common sense and reason can see something special and unique in husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. All civilizations understand mothers and fathers are different and unique and children need both. These arguments about equality are false."

In Volney, a small town in upstate Oswego County, clerk Barbara MacEwen told the YNN news station that she opposes gay marriage on religious grounds and will have to choose between issuing a license or quitting her job. She told the station she would probably issue the license.

MacEwen wrote to her state senator, Patricia Ritchie, seeking guidance. Jim Reagen, a spokesman for Ritchie, said they had not yet seen the letter but will advise MacEwen that same-sex marriage is the law. Ritchie is a Republican who voted against the bill.

Jim Koury, secretary of the New York State Association of City and Village Clerks, said he hadn't heard from any clerks who will refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

"You can't really pick and choose" which laws to follow, Koury said.

Sen. Mark Grisanti, a freshman Republican from Buffalo who voted for the bill though he campaigned as an opponent, said Wednesday that he sticks by his decision, even while defending the rights of his critics.

"That's what makes this country so great," he said. "People have the opportunity to voice their opinion and have the opportunity to get their opinion across."

Grisanti and Sen. Stephen Saland were the last two senators undecided before Friday night's climactic vote. Saland, who voted for the measure, is also on NOM's list of targeted senators.

Standing Wednesday with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who credited him with being the first Republican senator to announce his support of the bill and paving the way for the others, Sen. James Alesi of Monroe County said he had voted against it two years ago with other party members "for political reasons" to help the Republicans regain the Senate majority.

"I promised myself I would vote yes no matter what the next time," he said.


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