Though some may argue for retreat, marriage equality can be achieved. Certainly some opponents will try to amend the state constitution and prohibit same sex marriages. They run the risk of looking like extremists, embarrassing their allies, and they could even help the cause of marriage equality.
The major obstacle is inertia on the part of the political establishment. Doing nothing was a theme in the July 6 decision by the state’s highest court when it barred same sex couples from marrying.
The struggle for gay marriage is relatively new, Judge Robert S. Smith wrote. It is not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition. While there is a history of serious injustice in the treatment of homosexuals,” it is “a wrong that has been widely recognized only in the relatively recent past,” Smith wrote.
(In what was only one of his non sequiturs, Smith held that law restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was not the product of anti-gay prejudice.)
In her brilliant dissent, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye did not dispute that the pursuit of marriage equality is new.
“Only since the mid-twentieth century has the institution of marriage come to be understood as a relationship between two equal partners, founded upon shared intimacy and mutual financial and emotional support,” Kaye wrote.
Veteran Albany lobbyist Vincent Marrone believes the chief obstacle facing progressives is “a lack of political will, based on a sense that the public doesn’t support gay marriage, not to mention church and conservative leaders. The same old story, right?”
In the face of such passivity and opposition, the gay community and its friends will do well to avoid complacency or despair. First, there are steps that can be taken before a new legislature and new governor convene in Albany in January 2007.
We must encourage Elliot Spitzer to make marriage equality a governor’s program bill. This is a term of art in Albany and it means a bill that the governor officially submits to the legislature. The governor is one of just three decision makers in Albany. Spitzer’s support will enormously improve the chance for passage in the Assembly and create a public stir.
Activists can help by working for the Spitzer campaign. If the campaign sees an outburst of gay support, it will strengthen Spitzer’s resolve to move forward on marriage equality. On the volunteer page at spitzer2006.com, there is a “GLBT” box that can be checked (A sign that Spitzer is serious about tracking his gay support.) A second box, titled “about me,” permits the volunteers to write that the Empire State Pride Agenda, the statewide gay lobbying group, encouraged the volunteer by saying that Spitzer supports equality and justice for all New Yorkers. While volunteering, lesbian and gay community members can talk to Spitzer’s staff about marriage equality.
If Spitzer elected, we must see that he fulfills his promise to submit a marriage equality bill. In effect, this is the governor officially asking Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to pass the law. This method would have a greater impact than say having the state health department submitting a program bill without the explicit support of the governor.
While there is reason to be concerned about Silver — he is seriously religious — there is no reason to prejudge his actions. Manhattan Assemblymember Deborah Glick, an out lesbian, will be one of the leaders in this fight. Daniel O’Donnell, also an openly gay Assemblymember, is deeply involved in the campaign. He was a plaintiff in one of the four gay marriage lawsuits heard by the Court of Appeals. They have already taken a first step by sending Kaye’s dissent to their colleagues. Her reasoning is so sound that it is bound to persuade some assemblymembers. We could see dozens of members asking their colleagues to support marriage equality. This is a respectable number for starting a campaign to win a majority of the Assembly Democrats.
In an interview, Glick stressed that Silver “spends a lot of time trying to find a consensus even when it differs from his own personal view,” in effect saying that Silver’s personal beliefs will be the most important factor in his decision.
Maintaining his majority is very important to Silver He has increased his hold there to 105 out of a total of 150. He has been a friend in the past.
Among the governor, the state Senate majority leader, and the Assembly leader, Silver has been the only Democrat for a dozen years and yet he has played a crucial role in finding funds for AIDS services, programs for LGBT youth, and the other efforts that benefit this community.
Another reason for hope is some highly visible Republican support. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said if the court rejected marriage equality he would fight for it. Glick said that the mayor has a “considerable bully pulpit.” In short, the community has resources and allies that can mount a serious campaign.
And in certain circumstances the Republican-controlled state Senate is not always an obstacle to progressive causes. Glick observed that the Legislature recently passed the morning-after contraceptive pill bill when Joe Bruno, the Senate majority leader, permitted a non-party line vote. Eight Senate Republicans and the Democrats passed the bill, which failed when Governor George E. Pataki vetoed it.
Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the statewide gay lobbying group, and other lesbian and gay leaders have their work cut out for them, but there are real reasons for hope.