With NY State Senate Likely Red, Is Marriage Equality Doomed?

The short answer is no. The more complicated answer is probably — and for some time to come.

Without something on the right — meaning correct — side of history to fight for, of course, we may as well toss ourselves off the nearest roof, hold the nearest trigger to our mouths and let the sick wither to death.

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Yet reality is reality, and with the final outstanding New York state senate election likely going Republican, the GOP will hold the majority in that body with a 32-30 margin. We’ve learned enough over the past two years to know that unexpected things can shift the power balance in Albany. A slim possibility of moving to a 31-31 tie always exists.

Even that, though, won’t change the immediate chances of a marriage-equality bill passing in Albany if one would to come to a vote. And if is clearly the operative word.

Not that the Democrats, who ran the State Senate for most of the past two years, were collectively doing the advocates for marriage equality much of a favor. As noted on the CFR in 2009, my own State Senator, George Onorato, proudly voted against marriage equality after cruelly toying with advocates. Which is why Onorato’s decision to retire was not unlike V-E Day for those favoring same-sex marriage, a date the World War II vet surely remembers well.

Then again, one vote does not change make. Indeed, when the marriage-equality vote was taken in 2009, all the GOP members in the New York State Senate voted against it, as did eight turncoat Democrats: Joseph Addabbo, Darrel J. Aubertine, Ruben Diaz, Shirley L. Huntley, Carl Kruger, Hiram Monserrate, Onorato and William T. Stachowski. For amusement’s sake, do click on the some of the aforementioned links and search under the term “marriage.” These folks were — and are — really rather feckless. Huntley, for example, first attributed her vote to being a reflection of the will of her constituents (a most convenient excuse), then took a shot at marriage-equality advocates directly:

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…to those few of you who have been insulting and even threatening, I will not be bullied. We cannot and should not advocate for tolerance only when it benefits us. Again, we should allow the people of the State of New York to decide the issue of Marriage Equality.

No, Senator Huntley, we shouldn’t insult our elected officials. We should, however, expect our elected officials to lead, to show some guts for civil rights.

Of the remaining seven Democrats, change is everywhere. Onorato is obviously gone; the corrupt Monserrate had the dubious honor of becoming the first member of the New York State Senate to be expelled in over 90 years. Onorato’s replacement, Michael Gianaris, is pro-marriage equality, but Aubertine, in the general election, was defeated by his Republican rival, presumably a faithful member of the GOP’s antigay coalition. Fellow Democrat Tim Kennedy beat Stachowski in a primary, then in the general, but Antoine Thompson, who favors marriage equality, was defeated in the election by Mark Grisanti, a former Democrat who ran as a Republican and has stated that he is “inalterably opposed” to marriage equality. Half-empty glasses can always be viewed as half-full: Longtime Senator Frank Padavan, an antigay Republican, lost reelection to Tony Avella, a pro-marriage equality Democrat.

Crain’s, on Nov. 23, published a then-updated summary of the marriage equality voting situation, suggesting if a vote were held in January 2011, it would still lose, but now by a 29-33 margin, better than the 24-38 margin of the 2009 results. Which is not good enough, obviously. In my view, until Democrats exercise party discipline — something they are usually terrible at — the GOP will continue to exploit its vulnerabilities, what with Diaz, for example, an implacable foe of gay rights and Kruger not much better. He’s a special case, come to think of it, supporting same-sex rights after death and generating so much enmity that his own sexuality was called into question as a federal corruption scandal kicked into high gear. Still, Kruger won reelection with 72% of the vote, having earlier knocked a primary opponent out of the race before September. He’s fooling himself, seriously self-deluding, if he thinks he’ll be left alone for the next two years.

Yet does it get more in-your-face than Addabbo, who joked at a debate about the amount of money LGBT activists had given him, even as he vowed he couldn’t be “bought”? With Democrats like this, might we clone Jesse Helms?

Crain’s recently suggested that Gov.-Elect Cuomo might twist some Republican arms:

The atmosphere in 2011 could well be different. Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has pledged to push for marriage equality. Also, the Human Rights Campaign, among others, is working to build public support to change the law, whereas in 2009 activists focused on lobbying legislators. HRC yesterday released its seventh celebrity endorsement video, the first one with Spanish and English versions. The videos are currently on free websites only but could appear in taxis soon and eventually on television.

And I do hope this turns out to be the case. Yet I have a hard time imagining Cuomo will make marriage equality a real priority when the financial state of New York, with billions in deficits over the next three years, seems so precarious. It also doesn’t give me confidence that the incoming State Senate Majority Leader, Dean Skelos, called Cuomo “one of us” as he proceded to reaffirm his gay-hate.

Let’s support what the Human Rights Campaign and NYers for Marriage Equality are up to. Click on this page, too, with a list of things all of us can do to fight for what is right.

These are the newest ads, with Daphne Rubin-Vega:

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