Leadership, and Its Absence

Sometimes keeping score is the very best thing we can do.

Earlier this year, in response to New Paltz Mayor Jason West’s decision to solemnize same-sex marriages in upstate Ulster County and the thousands of such weddings taking place in San Francisco, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer examined the question of marriage law here in the Empire State.

Spitzer, a Democrat on the record in favor of same-sex marriage since he was first elected in 1998, assigned a crack team of attorneys in his office to study the law, and came back with a split decision, both disappointing and full of a significant measure of hope for the future.

The attorney general concluded that despite the fact that the state’s specific marriage statute uses gender-neutral language, viewed against the overall context of state law, same-sex marriage is not currently authorized.

However, Spitzer did not end his analysis there. He also said that excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage rights raised significant state constitutional concerns related to privacy and equal protection.

And, perhaps most relevant to the immediate question at hand, he said that existing precedents in New York judicial history clearly suggest that same-sex marriages validly entered in other jurisdictions, such as Massachusetts, should be recognized in this state.

The Bay State’s strongly conservative governor, Mitt Romney, has denounced that state’s same-sex marriage ruling ever since it was handed down by its highest court last November. After a series of ploys aimed at overturning or delaying gay marriages there were foiled, Romney turned his attention to blocking out-of-state couples from spending their tourist dollars in Massachusetts by going there to get married. The governor bizarrely vowed to block Massachusetts from becoming “the Las Vegas of gay marriage.”

In mounting this rearguard action, Romney is relying on a 1913 law aimed at honoring the miscegenation sensibilities of other states by outlawing any marriages by out-of-state couples that would be “void” if enacted in their home states. Drawing on such a racist tradition, Romney also acted to stretch the meaning of the word “void” to mean “not specifically authorized” by the couple’s home state, a category that would include all 49 other states.

Hoping to buttress his own thinking, Romney then wrote to the 49 other governors and attorneys general in the nation asking if same-sex marriage was authorized in their states.

In this space, three weeks ago, we called on both Spitzer and Gov. George Pataki to respond to the Massachusetts governor by highlighting the results of the attorney general’s opinion.

Pataki has consistently declined Gay City News’ request for comment, but last Friday Spitzer followed through on his earlier statements by forwarding his opinion to Romney.

For that, the attorney general should be lauded.

What effect Spitzer’s actions will have on Romney and how New Yorkers who chose to ignore Romney’s warnings and get married in Massachusetts will fare, of course, remain to be seen.

The Massachusetts governor chose to use the occasion of same-sex marriages commencing in his state this week not only to reiterate his grumbling about them and his vow to overturn them by voter initiative in 2006, but also to force the four municipalities that announced they would not discriminate against out-of-state couples to forward all information about licenses they issued to the State House. This kind of high-handed gubernatorial action can only suggest that Romney plans to continue demagoguing the issue.

Which is exactly what Pres. George W. Bush also did this week—repeating his denunciation of “activist judges” and his call for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

It seems not a week goes by when our community is not reminded what this year’s election is all about.

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