Bronx Hosts Marriage Forum

Elected officials, activists respond to March’s anti-gay rally

Last March, when thousands of evangelical Christians convened in front of the Bronx County Courthouse and called for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, alarm bells went off for the borough’s leading gay activists and others, who began organizing to formulate a calculated response.

A public event held to demonstrate opposition to that amendment took place at Hostos Community College on Thursday, May 6, and featured leading Bronx politicians and activists. Carmen Vazquez, deputy director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) lobby, chaired the meeting. The turnout of prominent politicians was meant to show that state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat who helped organize the anti-gay rally on March 14, does not represent the monolithic position of the Bronx’s elected officials, many of whom, like Diaz, are Latino.

Speakers at the forum included Freddy Ferrer, the former borough president who supports same-sex marriage and is mentioned as a potential 2005 mayoral candidate, City Councilmember José Serrano Jr., whose father, José Serrano, represents a Bronx district in Congress, and Rep. Joseph Crowley, a Queens Democrat who supports same-sex marriage. Councilmember Bill Perkins, who represents Harlem in the City Council and who is running for Manhattan borough president, also addressed the audience.

All the elected officials emphasized their opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment, which Pres. George W. Bush has endorsed, while underscoring their support for LGBT rights. However, some of the politicians who spoke stopped short of supporting the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.

Crowley acknowledged that his voting record on supporting gay rights has been spotty.

“I’ve been in elected office for 18 years,” said Crowley, adding, “I haven’t always been there when you needed me.”

Crowley came out firmly against the FMA, but was vague about his actual position on gay marriage.

While the event was a good showing of Democratic politicians’ willingness to speak out against the FMA, it provided less information on how same-sex marriage proponents can advocate for its legalization in New York. For example, the Wedding March, planned by Marriage Equality New York to cross the Brooklyn Bridge this coming Sunday, was announced only at the very end of the meeting.

Mark Reyes, executive director of the Bronx Lesbian and Gay Health Consortium, expressed frustration that the event had so little time for discussion among its more than 75 attendees due to the long roster of speakers. Other participants at the Hostos gathering agreed the event failed to educate participants about how to enact legalized marriage in the Empire State.

Rev. Luis Barrios, gave a moving speech in favor of same-sex marriage. Barrios also shed light on the organization behind the scenes of the massive March 14 rally where many people from outside the Bronx were bussed to the event.

Barrios said that since the event, several Pentecostal clergymen have said they felt deceived by Diaz, who is also a preacher with ties to right wing religious groups. Barrios aid that many clergy had not been told that they were attending a pro-Bush event. But as protesters for and against gay marriage arrived at the Bronx courthouse, a massive banner that read “Yes to George Bush’s Constitutional Amendment” stood draped across the towering façade of the building.

Most significantly however, according to Barrios, some religious leaders were unaware that legalizing same-sex marriage would not force clergy to perform religious ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. This distinction, between civil marriage and religious marriage, has been central to arguments of LGBT activists who support same-sex marriage.

One elected official, out lesbian Councilmember Margarita Lopez of the Lower East Side, said this week, after gays and lesbians began marrying in Massachusetts, that she is determined to have same-sex marriage legalized in New York.

“It is a shame that Massachusetts was first,” said Lopez. “But we are going to double our efforts to get gay marriages legalized here.”

In a May 18 article in Hoy, a Spanish-language daily, Diaz said that Latino opposition to gay marriage was confirmed by the March 14 rally, which he claims drew 30,000 people. Police estimates put attendance at roughly 5,000.

“We agreed to attend a massive rally in which the Hispanic people and the state of New York let it be known that there is complete repudiation of marriage between two men or two women,” Diaz was quoted as saying.. “Our legislators have to understand that the majority of Hispanic people and this state is conservative. Those legislators that go around disobeying the mandate of the people will face confrontations at election time.”

Latino public opinion remains evenly split on gay marriage, according to recent statewide polls. Lopez responded to Diaz’s assertions, saying, “Those lies—that Hispanics are more conservative than anyone else—must be destroyed.”

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