by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
In a stunning defeat for both marriage equality advocates and Gov. David Paterson, the New York State Senate voted down a marriage equality bill on December 2. The vote was 38-24.
Later that night some 300 New Yorkers staged an impromptu protest in Times Square. Most of the anger seemed directed at the eight Democrats who voted against the bill with the crowd chanting, "Vote them out! Vote them out!"
Pre-vote speculation was that the measure would pass. The New York Assembly passed the bill in July by a margin of 89-52, and again on December 1, 88-51.
A Marist College poll released last week found that 51% of New Yorkers questioned favored legalizing same-sex marriage, with only 42% opposed. A June poll by Qunnipiac University poll reported a similar spread of 51% to 41%.
Thomas K. Duane, the prime sponsor of the bill and the New York Senate's only out Gay member, claimed he had lined up enough votes to pass the measure. The Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the state's LGBT lobby, had also expressed confidence that a bipartisan majority in the 62-member Senate would vote Yes.
Stating emphatically, "I'm not the one who ever lied throughout this entire process," Duane charged that at least eight of his colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, had broken promises made to him, and said that he felt "betrayed."
In Times Square, protestors circulated photos of rats labeled with the names of the eight Democratic defectors.
Longtime Gay activist David Mixner said, "If they insist on operating on a level of betrayal, then it is time to seriously consider a more civil rights movement approach to fighting for our rights instead of pumping money into either party in some sort of masochistic dance."
"Redouble efforts," Paterson says
Gov. Paterson had been a vocal supporter of the legislation. Facing the prospects of a primary challenge in 2010 from popular state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of former Governor and Democratic Party heavyweight Mario Cuomo, Paterson put much of his political capital on the line to pass the marriage bill.
On April 16, he introduced the bill to a cheering crowd of supporters, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a number of city and state officials.
"The time has come to act," he said on that occasion. "The time has come to bring marriage equality to the state of New York."
"This is a civil rights issue and civil rights don't wait for the right time," Paterson said then. "Rights should not be stifled by fear. Silence should not be a response to injustice. If we take no action, we will surely lose."
After the vote on Wednesday, Paterson pledged to keep fighting for marriage equality.
"It is always darkest before the dawn," he said. "As disappointed as we are today, let's get up tomorrow and redouble our efforts. We are going to lay the foundation to make people feel comfortable to vote their conscience and not fear political backlash."
Senate Majority Leader Democrat Pedro Espada promised "as many do-overs as is necessary to get us home."
"The Bible should never be left out!"
On the other side, New York's new Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan made clear he would vigorously fight same-sex marriage legislation. He was joined in opposition by many evangelical Protestants.
"I have religious beliefs, but when I walk through those [Senate] doors, my Bible stays out," Sen. Eric Adams of Brooklyn, who is African American, said during the debate.
In response, Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Pentacostal minister representing the Bronx and a longtime enemy of marriage equality, said, "The Bible should never be left out!"
In an ironic twist, Majority Leader Espada, who supported the bill, ended up on the opposite side from his ally, Queens Democrat Hiram Monserrate.
Espada and Monserrate briefly defected to the Republicans in June, giving them control of the Senate. In a complex deal to restore control to the Democrats, Espada was chosen as Democratic Majority Leader.
The deposed Democratic Leader, Sen. Malcolm Smith, also of Queens, was a known supporter of marriage equality, and there was speculation at the time that anti-marriage Democrats were behind Espada's maneuver.
When it came time to vote, Monserrate voted against the bill. Espada voted for it, but was unable to bring eight of his fellow Democrats along.
"This is not over."
LGBT activists promised not to be deterred by the setback in New York.
"While this is a disappointing result, Family Equality Council will continue to fight for full equality until it is achieved in New York and across the US," said Family Equality Council Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler. "This includes not taking our eyes off New Jersey, where Governor Corzine has promised to sign a marriage equality bill if it reaches his desk before the end of his term."
Lambda Legal's Director of Constitutional Litigation Susan Sommer vowed to continue litigation for full marriage equality, saying, "This is not over."
"As always, Lambda Legal will continue to make the case for equality and will continue to defend the state's recognition of out-of-state marriages, as we did in New York's highest court last month," Sommer said. "But no matter how many times we defend families in court or how consistently the state upholds recognition of out-of-state marriages, same-sex couples in New York are still vulnerable to discrimination until they can marry in the state where they live."
David Mixner called for upping the ante.
"With New York, Maine, and New Jersey, the wisdom of a federal strategy is enforced as a new way of approaching this dilemma," he said. "What is not acceptable is that we all get filled with fear and start giving away our freedom out of frustration."
"We must consider a concerted and well planned campaign of non-violent civil disobedience," Mixner continued. "Business as usual can not continue in this country as long as we are separated from the rest of our neighbors, families and friends who have full equality and freedom."
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