New York State Senate rejects marriage bill
The New York State Senate voted 24-38 today against a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry in the Empire State.
The long-delayed vote came on the heels of more than two hours of passionate and even emotional debate on the Senate floor.
"Provide me with the exact same rights as you have Madam President and each and every member of the New York State Senate has," openly gay state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Manhattan,] who initially introduced the bill, said. "It would make me equal in every way to everyone else in this chamber."
State Sen. Diane Savino [D-Staten Island] was among those who applauded Duane as she spoke in support of marriage for gays and lesbians.
"We have nothing to fear from Tom Duane and [his partner] Louis," she said. "We have nothing to fear from [state Assemblymember] Danny O’Donnell and his partner. We have nothing to fear from love and commitment."
State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson [D-Mount Vernon] spoke about her gay brother as she announced her support of the marriage bill. She also discussed those who continue to oppose nuptials for same-sex couples based on their religious convictions.
"Nobody elected me... to be the moral arbiter of their decisions," Hassell-Thompson said. "They did ask me to provide leadership and the rights for all of the people I serve."
Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm Smith [D-St. Albans] was more blunt. "What is wrong is not knowing what the Bible says and retreating to it," he said.
State Sen. David Valesky [D-Oneida] was among the handful of undecided lawmakers who supported the bill, but embattled state Sen. Hiram Monserrate [D-Jackson Heights] and state Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., were among the eight Democrats who voted against it. No Republicans supported the bill.
Diaz has been the most vocal opponent of gay marriage in either party. Monserrate faces an uphill re-election battle after he was found guilty of cutting up his live-in-girlfriend and trying to hide the incident.
"Let’s do what Mayor Bloomberg did: let’s go against the will of the people by doing [it] through politicians and without the people’s will," Diaz said as he spoke in opposition to the bill. "Let the people decide. I say let the people decide. If you put this issue before the voters, they will reject it." Diaz was referring to the mayor’s volte-face on term limits.
An EDGE article earlier today explained that the vote has been subject to numerous delays but that the Senate Republicans wanted a floor vote at last. The article also pointed out the opposition from Catholic and other groups. The state’s large Orthodox Jewish population is actively opposed; a few Orthodox Jews protested in front of the State House in Albany on Wednesday.
Diaz cited religious objections across denominations and creeds. "Not only the evangelicals, not only the Jews, not only the Muslims, not only the Catholics, but also the people oppose it," he said.
The New York Times noted that the emotional vote crossed ethnic lines, with blacks, Jews and Catholics on both sides of the vote. Black Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) told the Times, "When I walk thru these doors, my bible stays out. I believe there are certain moments here where we can benchmark our lives by the votes we took."
Adams compared the struggle for marriage to miscegenation laws that kept blacks and whites from marrying. The comparison has been controversial ever since many black voters helped pass Proposition 8 in California, which took away marriage equality there. In the District of Columbia, black politicians and clergy are in the forefront of the fight against marriage equality--as well as many on the other side of the issue.
Activists were quick to react to the "nay" vote.
"While we are disappointed by today’s vote, we are pleased that the issue of marriage equality at last was debated in the New York State Senate," Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said. "We had long called for a public debate on this matter so we could determine who was truly on our side."
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, herself an out-lesbian and the second-most powerful politician in the city, expressed disappointment. "Today the New York State Senate rejected an opportunity to declare that all citizens in New York are equal," she said in a statement. "This is a loss for every family in New York. This is a loss for every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorker."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after sitting on the fence about the issue, came out forcefully in favor of gay marriage this year.
Another city politician, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer may not be gay, but his statement was even more blunt in its assessment of the Senate vote.
"Only the State Senate could snatch defeat from the jaws of pride and progress," he said. "Millions of New Yorkers, regardless of their sexual orientation, looked to Albany today hoping our state would once again take its place at the forefront of America’s long struggle for human rights.
"Instead," he said, "we were treated again to the last minute disappointment that has become all too familiar from the State Senate." Stringer, a co-sponsor of a the marriage-equality bill when he served in the Assembly, added, "Along with countless New Yorkers who have been fighting this fight for many years, I am saddened by the Senate vote. We will keep fighting, and in the end, equal justice will prevail."
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, agreed. "Today’s vote is a vote against equal treatment for New York families," he said.
Duane further expressed anger.
"Today’s vote against Marriage Equality makes me very angry," he said after the vote. "Promises made were not honored. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, and all fair-minded New Yorkers have been betrayed. I am enraged, deeply disappointed and profoundly saddened by the vote today."
Activists are planning to rally tomorrow night in Washington Square Park in lower Manhattan and in Albany.
Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.