On March 17, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Bronx Democrat, spoke to Gay City News from the Dominican Republic, where the lawmaker said he was visiting with Pres. Hipólito Mejía to discuss the needs of his district’s Dominican American constituents and the issues faced by evangelical Christians in the Caribbean nation.
Last Sunday, Diaz was one of the keynote speakers at a monster rally staged in front of the Bronx County Courthouse.
A Pentecostal minister, who preaches regularly at a Bronx church and is a well-known figure in conservative religious circles, Diaz is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage who staged last Sunday’s rally to register his political clout with the state’s elected officials central to the ongoing legislative and judicial arguments in the same-sex marriage debate. Diaz expressed strong support for amending the U.S. Constitution and Pres. Bush’s efforts to make that happen.
Diaz has made a name for himself as the nemesis of many gay and lesbian New Yorkers. In 1994, Diaz earned their opprobrium when the minister publicly opposed staging the Gay Games in the city. At the time, Diaz was a member of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and an aspiring politician who said that an influx of gay men into the city would lead to more HIV infections and would set a negative example for youth. Most recently, in conjunction with an out-of-state religious group, Diaz filed a lawsuit in state court demanding that the city stop funding the Harvey Milk High School, a public school whose students are predominantly gay, lesbian and transgendered.
Apparently, the organizational efforts of Diaz and other pro-amendment organizers paid off last weekend. Eyewitness accounts vary, including the senator’s, but police reports estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 participants flocked to the courthouse to hear speakers denounce the decisions of Mayors Gavin Newsom of San Francisco and Jason West of New Paltz, as well as other elected officials nationwide, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Thirty thousand,” Diaz insisted when told about the police estimate of Sunday’s turn out. Diaz covered a wide range of topics during a telephone interview in which the maverick Democrat spoke of his army service in Germany in the 1960s and called upon federal lawmakers to grant immediate American citizenship to any resident alien serving in the U.S. armed forces who faces combat abroad.
When asked if he supported the American invasion of Iraq, Diaz added, “I support America and when people join the army, they join the army to defend America. It’s not right to join the army and just expect to get benefits.”
Diaz also reported that he has two gay brothers and said that while he has never met the lovers of his siblings, he loves them and accepts them, but would oppose their decision to seek a marriage license. “I would not bless their union in my church,” said Diaz if he would grant such religious recognition.
“I did. I did,” Diaz replied when asked if he played a key role in organizing the rally. “I organized with the other ministers a religious ‘demonstration’ against marriage for homosexuals,” Diaz responded when asked if in fact the rally served as a religious service for the thousands of Christians who flocked to the Bronx on a Sunday morning after first convening at their respective churches across the metropolitan area. “I showed you what we could do. I showed the governor, Eliot Spitzer, and especially Gifford Miller,” said Diaz. “The beginning was on Sunday when it was only Hispanics. We have not yet joined the other religious groups—Jews and Catholics—who oppose same-sex marriage.”
He reserved special criticism for mayoral aspirant Miller, a fellow Democrat.
“The law of the State of New York says it’s illegal. Eliot Spitzer says it’s illegal and Gifford Miller said he wants officials to do it. That’s wrong,” asserted Diaz.
Diaz said he did not intend to endorse Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, until “I see what he does,” apparently referring to how Kerry will clarify his position on same-sex marriage.
Kerry has stated publicly that he supports civil unions, not same-sex marriage, and while Kerry favors amending the Massachusetts Constitution to ban marriage for gays and lesbians, he opposes amending the U.S. Constitution.
“I am not homophobe,” said Diaz who disclosed that he has gay and lesbian congregants in his flock. “Everyone should be respected and I say that. I love them and make them feel welcome. I pray for them,” said Diaz, who replied, “what I say is between me and my savior,” when asked how he prays for his gay and lesbian churchgoers.
Diaz denied that Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion played any role in financing or organizing Sunday’s rally or providing maintenance staff to construct a sound platform or hang a massive banner that called for a federal marriage amendment.
“I am a conservative Democrat,” Diaz said. “I hope that my Democratic Party understands the importance of marriage for a man and a woman.”
Diaz said he also supports amending the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
When asked about his 1994 Gay Games comments, Diaz admitted that he said the event would spread HIV. “When I was interviewed for the C.C.R.B.,” said Diaz, “I told them I was a preacher of the Gospel. My comments about AIDS were made as a minister.” Diaz added that many politicians used the remarks for their own political gain, including “Tom Duane who used the incident to be elected to higher office.”
Duane, a gay man who is HIV-positive, now serves in the state senate with Diaz. In 1994, Duane was a city councilmember. Reached for comment, Duane said, “No one in Albany pays much attention to what Sen. Diaz says. The governor and [state Senate] Majority Leader Bruno are not moving to change the state Constitution. So, the Rev. Diaz is really just a fringe character. Maybe some churchgoers, who are misled by him, support what he says, but he is a very marginalized figure,” said Duane. “I feel sorry for him.”