BY PAUL SCHINDLER | If you are in the race of your life, it always helps to know it.
A day after he was among a handful of LGBT advocates who sat down with Governor Andrew Cuomo to chart a strategy for moving the marriage equality bill through the Legislature by June, Freedom to Marry’s executive director, Evan Wolfson, told an audience at the LGBT Community Center that we have eight to ten weeks to mobilize that drive. Wolfson, who has been pushing forward on our freedom to marry since his days as a Lambda Legal attorney litigating the issue in Hawaii in the mid-1990s, is someone who knows what he is talking about.
Those who attended the meeting with the governor uniformly came away impressed by his commitment to expending capital on the issue once the state budget has been settled. The budget deadline is April 1, and though New York has a long history of busting that deadline, conventional wisdom in Albany is that Cuomo places a high premium on things working more efficiently.
Sources who were at the meeting said the governor believes he will come out of the budget process with his commanding political posture largely undiminished — perhaps even enhanced — and that he argued this first legislative season of his tenure is the right time to tackle marriage equality.
That gives us one hell of an opportunity, and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we let it go by without giving it our all.
Put simply, the State Senate needs to hear from us — though it bears reminding that the State Assembly, having approved equal marriage rights three times, is down more than half a dozen Democrats, potentially shrinking our margin of comfort there.
In the 62-member Senate, 22 of 26 Democrats who represent districts in the city support our right to marry. The other four city Democrats voted no when the bill came up in 2009, though last week, both Shirley Huntley and Joe Addabbo in Queens professed to City Hall News that they are open to persuasion. Senator Ruben Diaz, a stridently anti-gay Bronx Democrat, is beyond reach. The fourth city Democrat, Karl Kruger, meanwhile, has just been indicted on federal corruption charges.
Kruger’s troubles win him no sympathy in the gay community, but he has shown no signs of resigning and it is unclear if the charges affect the effort to turn his vote around. We cannot forget that in 2009, Senator Hiram Monserrate, facing his own criminal charges, moved from a pro-gay posture to a no vote, due in large measure to the embrace he got from Diaz.
Elsewhere in the state, the four other Democratic senators are yes votes, while none of the 32 Republicans has voiced support, though Rochester’s James Alesi has also recently indicated willingness to reconsider his earlier no vote. None of the nine Republicans on Long Island or the four GOP senators representing suburban districts north and northwest of the city is currently on board.
That means that even excluding Diaz, there are 16 state senators in the metropolitan area — where marriage equality is supported by 60 percent or more of residents — that have not yet embraced the idea. Some among them, of course, will never be converted, but there are 19 additional Republicans beyond the Greater New York area to mine as well.
Probably most Gay City News readers live in districts with senators already supporting us on this issue. But we all have extended family, friends, and business associates elsewhere in the state, so there is something for everyone to do. The Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, Marriage Equality New York, and Queer Rising — among many groups — are hard at work and welcome your support.
One event that should be on everyone’s calendar is Equality & Justice Day, ESPA’s annual lobby push in Albany, this year scheduled for Monday, May 9. The other groups mentioned above are actively pitching in on mobilizing troops. Learn more at prideagenda.org or tinyurl.com/4urvpal.
The next eight to ten weeks are in our hands. Use them.