Bait and switch in New York?

The NY Times is wondering if New York Democrats pulled a bait and switch on gay rights supporters.

After a pledge from New York Democratic leaders that their party would legalize same-sex marriage if they won control of the State Senate this year, money from gay rights supporters poured in from across the country, helping cinch a Democratic victory.

But now, party leaders have sent strong signals that they may not take up the issue during the 2009 legislative session. Some of them suggest it may be wise to wait until 2011 before considering it, in hopes that Democrats can pick up more Senate seats and Gov. David A. Paterson, a strong backer of gay rights, would then be safely into a second term.

The question of how aggressively to proceed has touched off an intense debate among legislators and gay rights supporters about how ready the broader electorate is to embrace same-sex marriage, both in New York and across the country.

Gary Paul Gilbert, marriage equality activist in Jackson Heights, Queens, thinks the NYTimes is wrong on this and offers his analysis of the situation. He writes his response in an email:

As things stand now, we have to wait till January to find out if Malcolm Smith will be the State Senate Majority leader. If that happens, then the marriage equality bill will be openly gay State Senator Tom Duane’s baby. Smith won’t want to bring this to a vote until he knows he will win.

It will also depend on how strongly Duane will work for this. Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell devoted himself exclusively to passing the mariage equality bill in the Assembly in 2006. Dick Gottfried had been in charge of it before 2006 but he had many bills to work on and couldn’t give it his all. Even in this NYT article, Tom Duane is quoted that he is not a patient sort. Senators who owe Duane for his support on other issues will eventually have to reciprocate.

I see no reason to fear rightwing moneybags coming to New York State because we don’t have a referendum system like they do in California. In New York State, the legislators make the law and our assembly has already voted for marriage equality, and Governor Paterson supports marriage equality as well.

New York State has defacto gay marriage because since Martinez versus Monroe County, marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions have been recognized. The decision was unanimous, which made it difficult to appeal anyway. Martinez was decided in February 2008. Read the decision here.

Last Friday Monroe County said it would not appeal the decision, so same-sex couples who married elsewhere are definitely married in New York State and entitled to all 1324 protections which come with marriage in this state. The insurance commissioner said insurance companies in New York State must offer insurance to spouses of same-sex couples.

In any case, LGBTs and liberals in New York State will have to do a lot of work in New York State to demand equality in the Senate.

Something working in our favor is that Connecticut, which is not that far from NYC, is marrying couples, so there will be plenty of same-sex couples who will go there to get married and then claim benefits under NY State law. Eventually, New York State will be forced to compete with Connecticut for the marriage business. And New Jersey is on the verge of getting marriage equality too, which would put more pressure on New York because a couple could cross the river from NYC in fifteen minutes, get married, and come back to NYC legally married in New York State.

New York City Comptroller William Thompson issued a report in 2005, “Love Counts,” which estimates that New York City alone would make about 149 million dollars the first three years of allowing same-sex couples to marry. New York City would make 140 million and the total for the state would be 247 million. Read the report here.

Gay City News’, Andy Humm, writes:

Duane said he wasn’t “overly concerned” about the three Democratic senators -Pedro Espada of the Bronx and Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, in addition to Diaz – who have not yet pledged to vote for Democrat Malcolm Smith of Queens as their new majority leader. That vote is January 9. Duane said Smith is “100 percent committed to same-sex civil marriage and 100 percent committed to bringing it to the floor.”

Duane and Van Capelle emphasized the need for Republican votes for marriage equality, though Log Cabin’s Jeff Cook said later, “We believe we will have Republican support, but we’re not talking names yet.”

The Pride Agenda keeps a running tally of the positions of senators on these and two other issues – transgender rights and a school anti-bullying bill – on its website.

Van Capelle said that while 55 percent of New Yorkers polled support opening marriage to gay couples, the more important figure to politicians is the finding that the issue was only important to 9-12 percent of voters making a decision in the booth. Many elected officials could be convinced that there is less downside to a pro-marriage vote than they might suspect.

ed. note – We have had some trouble with the comments over the long weekend – fix coming on Monday.

UPDATE: More below

From a commenter:

This is what the NY Marriage Ambassadors organization is telling its members:

“The notions that the NYT raised today that a vote for marriage equality in the NY Senate is in jeopardy due to the vote on Prop 8 and three conservative Democratic Senators are mere rumors. You should realize that every reporter right now wants to make news on this issue and wants to find elected officials and others who will say the marriage bill is going to happen or it isn’t going to happen. This is particularly so during these few weeks when everything is in flux before a Majority Leader is chosen in January by the State Senate.

“Everyone needs to understand that much of what is being said right now by elected officials is more about the politics around the upcoming change in the Senate Majority and less about the passing of a marriage bill.

“During the first part of the legislative session from January through the first part of April elected officials mainly focus on resolving the budget before shifting over to other issues for the remainder of the legislative session. So the fact that you’re reading that some elected officials are suggesting that a marriage bill might not be taken up until after the budget is resolved is general “rule of thumb” for all program-type legislation in Albany and nothing more than that.

“The vote for a new Majority Leader will take place in January. That vote is what counts, not all the swirling rumors between now and then.

–Murdoch Matthew

husband of Gary Gilbert

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