Crowd crosses Brooklyn Bridge as equality movement awaits decision from NY high court
Despite heavy rain, more than 500 marchers with a rainbow of umbrellas streamed across the Brooklyn Bridge into Lower Manhattan on Saturday, June 3 to demand the right of same-sex couples to marry in New York. The Marriage Equality/ New York demonstration, matched by one over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, came just three days after the final appeal in four same-sex marriage cases was heard before the state’s highest court in Albany. A decision is expected this summer.
“I hope New York follows Massachusetts,” said Elmer Lokkins, 87, who was there with his husband, Gus Archilla, 89. They have been together 61 years, marrying in Canada two years ago. New York recognizes, in some respects, same-sex marriages performed elsewhere but will not perform them.
“Send a message to Albany that it is time to say, ‘I do,’” Ron Zacchi, co-director of Marriage Equality, told the marchers at a morning rally in Cadman Plaza. Not even the overwhelmingly Democrat State Assembly has so much as taken up a bill opening marriage to gay couples.
Also speaking at the rally was Nyack Mayor John Shields, a plaintiff in the only gay marriage case that has not gotten to the high court, who said his was “the first municipality in the state to say that any marriage legal elsewhere was legal in our town.”
Shields has said that Attorney General Eliot Spitzer told him that it will take 10 years before the state Legislature will grant marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Spitzer, who has enjoys a wide margin in the polls over any of the other remaining contenders in this year’s gubernatorial contest, has pledged to introduce a bill for marriage equality if the gay plaintiffs lose in court. Last Wednesday, his office was in court arguing that gay couples do not have a constitutional right to marriage in New York.
Few elected officials joined the march this year, but Sean Patrick Maloney, an out gay candidate for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, spoke, accompanied by two of his three children. He has said that as the chief law enforcement officer of the state, he would be obligated to defend the state’s marriage law, despite the fact that he believes it has “serious constitutional problems.” He had no comment on the arguments made by Spitzer’s office and lawyers for Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Court of Appeals, saying he had not read them.
At the closing rally in Battery Park, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, who ran for mayor in 2005 and may again in 2009, attacked Bloomberg for overturning the February 2005 ruling of Justice Doris-Ling Cohan ordering him to issue licenses to gay couples. “Anyone who believes the city was just going through the motions is wrong,” he said. “He is doing all of us a disservice. The lawyers for the city don’t speak for us.”
Cathy Marino-Thomas, co-director of Marriage Equality, said, “Bloomberg talks a good game, but he doesn’t show up on a day like today.”
Zacchi, in an e-mail message, took a different tone, saying, “We are working with Mayor Bloomberg to gain his assistance in our struggle toward marriage equality in NY.”
The mayor sent his counsel, Anthony Crowell, to read a joint proclamation supporting the march issued by Bloomberg and out lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Chelsea Democrat, who was also not on hand, but was represented by her liaison, Keri Sender. Neither Sender nor Crowell responded to press questions.
Just last year, Quinn excoriated the mayor for appealing the Ling-Cohan ruling. “This is the second time in less than a year that Mayor Bloomberg has gone to court with my tax dollars to make sure that I am not an equal citizen in this city.”
Reached by telephone this week, Quinn said that she was “deeply upset by the papers of the lawsuit” but added, “the mayor reached out to me and said he wants to get a marriage bill passed.”
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a Bloomberg appointee to the city Human Rights Commission, said in an e-mail that he was “disturbed” by the City’s argument in court “that because gay men and lesbians are not subject to discrimination, a more stringent standard of legal scrutiny is not warranted. I’m pleased that specious argument got shot down quickly.” Foreman praised Bloomberg’s recent radio address reiterating his “support” for same-sex marriage and his alliance with Quinn on the issue.
As of yet, however, there is no evidence of results from the mayor’s pledge to work to turn thinking around among his fellow Republicans in Albany. In 2004, however, Bloomberg took steps to ensure that gay marriages performed elsewhere would be recognized in New York City for purposes of pensions and other benefits.
Asked to assess the mayor’s impact to date, Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, who was pointedly excluded from a marriage summit Bloomberg hosted at Gracie Mansion earlier this year, said, “The mayor has been speaking out publicly about his support for marriage equality and people take notice when that happens… We look forward to his advocacy to advance marriage equality in New York.”
Asked whether Bloomberg has given the Pride Agenda any money to advance the marriage drive, Van Capelle responded, “The mayor is not a donor to the Pride Agenda and we have never asked for his financial support.”
Some marchers are taking concrete action to advance marriage equality. Kelitta Maxime, 21, of Freeport, LI, there with her lesbian sister, Marie, 23, said, “I refuse to get married until gay people can.”
Geert Martens, together with his husband Ray Murray for 17 years and married in his homeland of Belgium last June, has gotten the United Nations, where he works, to recognize their marriage for pension purposes but not health insurance yet.
Rose Ann Hermann, 50, a Westchester mother of two gay children, said, “I talk to every person I can about marriage equality and everyone from my 80-year old neighbor to young people have been very responsive.” She is in the Empire State Pride Agenda’s “marriage ambassador” program.
David Ball and Tim Hare, together 30 years, are battling the anti-gay marriage amendment in their home state of Pennsylvania. Richie Tran, 34, and Jacob Zimlichman, 31, together six years, want to marry in August. Their friends Gabriel Blau and Dylan Stein, both 26, celebrated a Jewish wedding ceremony just a week ago and are hoping to get civil recognition of their marriage.