Last night, after a long week of speculation and frustration in Albany, throughout New York State and across the country, the New York State Senate passed the Marriage Equality Bill, 33-29, extending equal marriage rights to same-sex couples in New York State.
There are many people to thank for making this happen, first and foremost, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who after only six months in office took a primary goal of his and made it a reality.
There are the Democrats in the Senate, who nearly unanimously stood up for equality and voted in favor of this bill, the only exception being Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. of the Bronx, who is staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage. Most especially, I want to thank Senator Liz Krueger, who tirelessly demanded a vote as each day passed with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos pushing off the vote in favor of more “mundane” topics such as a vote on the official vegetable of New York (which turned out to be sweet corn, not even a vegetable). Krueger started a hashtag campaign on Twitter, every day tweeting #LetUsVote and #EnoughisEnough, urging others to do the same and retweet in order to make it a trending topic. Eventually, enough was enough and Skelos had no choice but to bring the vote to the floor in the late evening, after all other bills had been discussed.
Thank you to Senator Kevin Parker, Senator for Flatbush, Ditmas Park and Kensington neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I moved to Senator Parker’s district back in March, and am proud to be represented by someone who supports equality for all New Yorkers and makes me feel welcome in this neighborhood. When the Senate vote on marriage equality happened in 2009 I lived in Bay Ridge, represented by Senator Martin Golden, who is a strong opponent of marriage equality, voting no then and again yesterday. Despite growing support for gay couples in New York and in South Brooklyn, Golden recently said that his constituents “don’t give a rat’s ass” about gay marriage, and then held an anti-gay marriage rally and attempted to introduce a Defense of Marriage bill in the Senate.
But most of all, my thanks goes out to five Senators who were courageous enough to change their vote from 2009, to stand up for what they believed was the right thing to do and not just what would help get them re-elected or what their religious upbringing told them. Carl Kruger, a Democrat from Southeast Brooklyn, voted no then, but according to The New York Times, “desperately wanted to change his vote. The issue… was tearing apart his household.” Four Republicans changed their votes as well, risking heavy political backlash from the Conservative Party and anti-gay rights groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, in 2012. Senator Jim Alesi of Rochester was the first Republican to come out for marriage equality, stating at a rally in Albany a few days ago “passing marriage equality is the most important think I can do in my 20 year history as a legislator.” The Times also reported that Alesi was “a major target” for Senator Cuomo to bring over to the pro-equality side, as he “seemed tormented by his 2009 vote. Cameras in the Senate chamber captured him holding his head in his hands as the word ‘no’ left his mouth.” Senator Roy McDonald followed with a few golden quotes and launched a massive “Stand with Roy” Facebook campaign:
“I’m tired of Republican, Democrat politics; I’m tired of blowhard radio people, blowhard television people, blowhard newspapers. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background, I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.”
“You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing.”
“You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f**k it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.”
And last night, two more brave souls revealed their vote on the Senate floor, with over 40,000 viewers watching on Livestream. Senator Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie became the 32nd Senator to give his support, the tipping point needed to pass the bill.
“As a traditionalist, I have long viewed marriage as a union between a man and woman. As one who believes in equal rights, I understood that the State was denying marriage to those in same sex relationships. In 2009, I believed that civil unions for same sex couples would be a satisfactory conclusion.
Since that time, I have met with numerous groups and individuals on both sides of the issue, especially during the last few months. As I did, I anguished over the importance and significance of my vote.
My intellectual and emotional journey has at last ended. I must define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality in the definition of law as it pertains to marriage. To do otherwise would fly in the face of my upbringing….
after much deliberation, I am doing the right thing in voting to support marriage equality.”
Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, who claimed he was undecided until yesterday, discussed his internal struggle between being a Catholic and a lawyer. He had previously stated “If I take the Catholic out of me, which is hard to do, then absolutely they should have these rights.” I had urged Senator Gristanti, in emails, phone calls, posts on his Facebook page and in an earlier blog post not to take the Catholic out of him but to realize that this bill grants civil marriage benefits, as recognized by the state which is not governed by Catholic law. In the end, Grisanti said the following in support of his vote:
“As a Catholic I was raised to believe that marriage was between a man and a woman. I am not here, however, as a Senator who is just Catholic. I am also here with a background as an attorney, through which I look at things and I apply reason.
I cannot legally come up with an argument against same sex marriage. Who am I to say that someone doesn’t have the same rights as I have with my wife, who I love?”
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all these Senators, and to the hard-working advocates in the New Yorkers United for Marriage Coalition: HRC, Freedom to Marry, Marriage Equality New York, Empire State Pride Agenda and Log Cabin Republicans. Thank you to Gay Marriage For New York and to David Badash of The New Civil Rights Movement, my primary sources of information over the last week as the possibility of a Senate vote unfolded.
We did it. We really did it.