LGBT demonstrators take to the streets demanding accountability for Senate vote
Appearing before a crowd of roughly 1,000 the day after the New York State Senate defeated a gay marriage bill in a 38-24 vote, Governor David A. Paterson urged the community to continue battling for equal marriage rights. “On the day when the first same-sex couples should be getting married here in the state of New York… we fight on,” Paterson said at a December 3 rally organized by Marriage Equality New York and held at the northern end of Union Square in Manhattan. “Keep fighting, keep the pressure on.”
The Democratic governor, who sponsored the marriage bill and placed it on the Senate’s agenda for the recent extraordinary session, was greeted with extended cheers and applause. He recalled the Dred Scott case, an infamous US Supreme Court decision in 1857 that ruled that no African American could be a US citizen, and said that the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves held in areas of the South in rebellion, came just five years later.
“The harshest, harshest times bring forth the greatest leadership,” Paterson said.
That theme continued throughout the roughly 90-minute rally as elected officials and activists told the crowd that the fight for gay marriage must go on. “It has to keep going in the streets, it has to keep going on election day, on primary day,” said Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council and an out lesbian. “[P]rimary day” was likely a warning to the eight Democrats who joined every Senate Republican in opposing the legislation. Early in the rally, when Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, criticized the Republicans for their votes, the crowd responded with “What about the Democrats?” and then later “Vote them out.”
That anger was apparent throughout the event. “I’m angry at the betrayal of people who are supposed to be standing up for our civil rights,” said Thomas K. Duane, the openly gay state senator who represents Chelsea. “The Democrats failed us in the Senate.” Duane, the marriage measure’s lead sponsor in the Senate, was warmly welcomed by the crowd, and after he spoke, individuals approached him with handshakes, hugs, and thanks for his efforts at passing the bill.
Six of the eight Democrats who voted “no” represent New York City neighborhoods. Several received gay money, gay help, or both in their most recent campaigns. Duane’s Senate campaign gave $2,500 to Joseph Addabbo from Queens, $3,500 to Darrel Aubertine, who represents portions of three upstate counties, and $3,500 to William Stachowski, who represents Buffalo and surrounding areas. Addabbo also received $9,500 from Tim Gill, a founder of Quark, the publishing software company, the Gill Foundation, which funds many gay causes, and the Gill Action Fund, a political lobbying group. The Empire State Pride Agenda, the statewide gay lobby, gave Addabbo $8,000. Hiram Monserrate from Queens received $4,500 from ESPA.
“Every Democrat in the State Senate should have voted for marriage,” Duane said. “Not one goddamn Republican was willing to vote for our right to marry.” Democrats won a 32-30 majority in 2008 after being the minority party in that body for more than four decades. Two Democrats, one of them Monserrate (who on December 4 was sentenced to probation and community service for a domestic violence conviction involving his girlfriend), temporarily defected to the Republicans in mid-2009, briefly returning that party to power. Since then, other Democrats have used the party’s narrow majority to stall action on measures meant to close the state’s budget deficit, because interests they represent find those measures objectionable.
The leadership, notably John L. Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, appears to be slowly learning how to manage what Duane described as a group of “very flawed Democrats.” The Republicans have always been a more ideologically cohesive group, and enforcing discipline was easier for leaders in that faction. That discipline was evident in their 30 no votes on the marriage bill.
“Too many times for too many years, we have seen that there is party discipline on the Republican side,” said Deborah Glick, an Assembly member and out lesbian who represents the West Village. Glick also voiced the stay-the-course theme. “Do not lose heart, do not be discouraged,” she said. “We will win, we will succeed. We have history on our side.”
One day earlier, less than three hours after the State Senate vote, several hundred New Yorkers rallied in Times Square to express their unhappiness. They focused particular venom at the eight Democrats who opposed the bill. “I’m pissed off,” said Eugene Lovendusky, a 24-year-old teacher, who has lived in New York for three years. “I come from California and I’m already a second-class citizen there. Now I’m a second-class citizen here. I don’t know where I can call home.”
The group spent more than an hour marching and chanting in the middle of Times Square as commuters, tourists, and cars hurried past in the rain. The December 2 protest was lit by the square’s billboards with a blazing light display from an American Outfitters store alternately illuminating the crowd in a bright red and white glow. Toward the end of the time, they gathered at the square’s northern end near the TKTS booth and called out the names of the eight Democrats to boos and catcalls.
“I was particularly disappointed that my own senator voted against it,” said Nathan Claus, a 24-year-old stage manager, who is represented in the Senate by Democrat George Onorato from Queens. Claus married in Canada two years ago and carried a sign that read “Married in Canada. Why Not Here Eh?”
The eight Democrats were not the only targets at the protest. “I want to know from Tom Duane, did they lie to him?” said Jon Winkleman, 42, a longtime gay Democratic activist, referring to the eight Democrats. “He needs to publicly explain what went wrong with the candidates he was selling to us.”
More than one protester noted the speech given by Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat who supported the gay marriage bill, that likened the experience of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community to other groups, including African Americans, that have endured discrimination and overcome it.
“It’s inevitable,” said Paul Gosselin, a 25-year-old actor, said of passing a New York gay marriage bill, though he added that he could not predict when that inevitability will be realized. “The sooner, the better,” Gosselin said. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”