Volume 19 Issue 44 | March 16 - 22, 2007

Talking Points

The Assembly’s gays back away from marriage bill

By Paul Schindler

A very odd legislative strategy brawl — judged even by the byzantine traditions of Albany — pitting progressive Manhattan Democrats against each other is playing out in our State Capitol.

Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and gay state Senator Tom Duane, both Chelsea Democrats, are preparing to reintroduce the marriage equality legislation they first raised in 2002. Admittedly, with the Senate still controlled, even if ever so narrowly, by the Republicans, success in that chamber is unlikely. But with the support of a powerful new ally, Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer, victory in the Assembly, where his party holds a staggering 108 of the 150 seats, is within reach.

And passage in the Assembly, reinforced by Spitzer’s advocacy, would likely change the terms of the marriage equality debate across the state, making it a distinct possibility no longer unthinkable among the general population.

Clear evidence that pro-marriage equality momentum is well under way has emerged in the Assembly. When the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) first announced its running Web tally of marriage supporters in September, the number of Assembly “ayes” stood at 38. Today that number is 54, more than 70 percent of the votes needed for a majority.

Significantly, the number of co-sponsors of the Gottfried measure — legislators willing to make their support high-profile in advance of having to cast a vote — is well over 30, up by roughly a dozen in the past four months.

Yet, two former co-sponsors no longer willing to attach their names to the bill are the Assembly’s only out gay and lesbian members — Democrats Deborah Glick, whose district includes Tribeca and the West Village, and Daniel O’Donnell of the Upper West Side.

Their explanations are simply not convincing. O’Donnell asserts, contrary to the numbers posted on the ESPA Web site, that “there has been absolutely no movement” on the Gottfried-Duane measure. Both of them argue, as Glick worded it, that advocates “should put their energy not into trying to figure out how they could introduce their own bill but to speak with one voice urging the governor to introduce his bill as soon as possible.”

Spitzer has pledged to introduce a “program bill,” intended to signal the priority he places on the issue — and one of his top aides, Sean Patrick Maloney, told Gay City News two weeks ago that the governor will act in 2007. But Glick and O’Donnell seem to believe that introducing a bill in advance of Spitzer will somehow take the heat off the governor.

Nobody else pushing for marriage equality agrees with them — not Duane, not ESPA and not the activists from Marriage Equality New York, who gathered on Valentine’s Day outside the city’s Downtown marriage bureau at One Centre St. A healthy list of co-sponsors will help enlist more “ayes” — and that is the surest way to encourage action by the governor. The absence of the two L.G.B.T. assemblymembers certainly can’t help the effort to sign up wavering, timid, swing-district Democrats.

Some critics of Glick and O’Donnell are grumbling they are doing the bidding of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Downtown Democrat with strong support in the Lower East Side’s Orthodox Jewish community, who would just as soon sidestep the marriage question, and push the onus of leadership off on Spitzer. It’s hard to imagine, though, that with nearly three dozen colleagues standing up as co-sponsors, it is Glick and O’Donnell who worry about coming on too strong with the speaker... I hope.

O’Donnell’s comments to Gay City News betrayed a more plausible explanation for what’s going on: “It is troubling, deeply, deeply troubling to me that Dick Gottfried would change the laws affecting people like me without either concern or care or even picking up the phone.”

Is there any meaningful question — requiring extensive phone calls — about what the goal is here?

Can it really be that the drive for marriage rights is being held hostage to Assembly Democratic conference skirmishing?

It’s time for everyone to get on the bus. Deborah Glick and Daniel O’Donnell should re-up as co-sponsors of the Gottfried-Duane bill.

Paul Schindler is editor-in-chief of Gay City News, a sister publication of Downtown Express.

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