Get working on gay marriage, pols and activists say
“Those who put out this decision thought something very, very wrong,” said Christine C. Quinn, speaker of the City Council and an out lesbian, referring to the July 6 ruling from the state’s highest court that barred gay couples from marrying in New York. “They thought it would stop us…We will move forward with our allies and gain our equality.”
At the start of the September 28 event, Daniel Dromm, a Democratic district leader, told the crowd “To me, this is the defining issue for the gay rights movement as we move into the future.”
Recalling the 15-year battle to pass Intro 2, a city law that was enacted in 1986 that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, Dromm said opponents of that law were wrong.
“I would just caution those who would speak out against gay marriage…you will also be proven wrong,” he said.
The two-and-a-half hour rally, which was held at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, was intended to stir the gay community and its allies to take the fight for marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples to the state legislature.
“Many of you, I am sure, were in Sheridan Square on that terrible, terrible day in July,” said Carmen Vasquez, the deputy executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the statewide gay lobbying group. “We were horrified and infuriated by the decision.”
ESPA, which co-sponsored the rally, has recruited over 200 New Yorkers to be “marriage ambassadors” who are charged with carrying the gay marriage message to friends and family, politicians, the media and others. The group has produced a scorecard of gay marriage supporters, opponents and undecideds in the state legislature.
At a September 20 marriage forum held at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, Alan Van Capelle, ESPA’s executive director, said “We expect action this coming year” in Albany.
For that to happen New Yorkers must “get up off their duffs, go to their legislators and tell them why marriage matters,” Vasquez said at the Queens event. ESPA hopes to increase its numbers for its annual May lobbying day in Albany.
“We had 600 people up there,” Vasquez said of this year’s lobbying day. “We need 1,000, we need 1,500. I’m totally serious. We need five buses from Queens…We need straight allies.”
The rally drew some Queens politicians, all Democrats and gay marriage supporters, including Ivan C. Lafayette, a deputy majority leader in the Assembly, Jose R. Peralta and Jeffrion L. Aubry, two Assembly members, state Senator John D. Sabini, and City Councilmember Helen Sears. Lafayette noted his early support for the issue.
“I think the first time I was asked about gay marriage, about a dozen years ago, I thought about it for 30 seconds and I said ‘Why not?’” he said.
Lafayette cautioned against too aggressively pursuing elected officials who are supportive, but may be undecided on marriage. Preserving the Democratic majority in the Assembly that can override gubernatorial vetoes is important too, he said.
“You’ve got to help change,” Lafayette said. “You’ve got to do it without throwing people out.”
Van Capelle has said that Assembly Democrats should use their majority to push marriage rights for gay people forward. Democrats hold 105 of the 150 Assembly seats.
Sabini said he believed that a gay marriage bill would pass in the state Senate if the Republican majority allowed a vote. No Republican member of that body currently supports it. Republicans hold 35 of the Senate’s 62 seats. Such a vote will not come soon. “The fight that will occur in Albany will take time,” Sabini said.
Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat and the new minority leader in the state Senate, supports gay marriage.
Peralta urged the crowd to pressure Democratic state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, most likely the state’s next governor, to fulfill the slogan “On day one, everything changes” that his campaign uses.
“We need to make sure that we remind him that on day one, everything must change,” Peralta said.
While Spitzer fought the lawsuits brought by 44 gay or lesbian couples seeking to marry.
He has said he supports gay marriage and will introduce a bill legalizing it if he is elected governor. He has also said it is not a top priority and it will take 10 years.
Rev. Pat Bumgardner, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, a gay denomination, urged the crowd to engage religious leaders.
“Take back the faith,” she said. “Take back the language of the faith, take back the witness of the faith…We need to have political people and religious people alike.”
The Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens also sponsored the rally.