No Pride in Albany with civil rights on hold
This was supposed to be the year for marriage equality and other progressive L.G.B.T. breakthroughs. In Washington, the nation witnessed the historic inauguration of the first African-American president, a compelling, transformational leader who took office voicing the strongest pro-L.G.B.T. agenda in history. In Albany, after 40 years, the Democrats finally were back in control of the State Senate; they offered the promise of enacting three key pieces of legislation that the former Republican leadership had stood in the way of — marriage equality, transgender rights and a school anti-bullying law with protections based on sexual and gender identity.
The first six months of 2009 have instead provided plenty of reason for disappointment and frustration.
In Albany, the year opened on a rudely uncertain note. The gay-and-lesbian community had poured blood, sweat and treasure into last fall’s legislative elections, which resulted in a razor-thin 32-to-30 Democratic advantage in the Senate. However, three of the 32, among them Bronx Pentecostal minister Ruben Diaz, an implacable gay-rights foe, threatened to bolt to the Republican fold, returning control to the G.O.P. Some manner of deal was struck to avoid that disaster; but before that, the Democratic leader appeared ready to bargain away civil rights for power.
Undeterred, the Empire State Pride Agenda, State Senator Tom Duane — the lead sponsor on all three L.G.B.T. bills — and other advocates simply pressed on, Duane working his colleagues, periodically announcing progress. In mid-April, Governor David Paterson introduced the marriage-equality measure in one of his few strong acts of leadership.
As polls continued to show increases in support for marriage equality and transgender rights among New Yorkers, there was a growing sense of inevitability about these issues. Dean Skelos, the Republican leader in the Senate, said his members could vote their consciences on gay marriage, that they would not be held to a uniform party position.
Then came June 8. A Republican coup, in which two Democrats defected from their party’s control of the Senate, appeared to oust the existing leadership and restore the old regime. Except one of the Democratic rebels scampered back home. And since then, nothing. Deadlock. Inaction. Arrogant disregard for the fact that state government is at a standstill.
If the governor’s unilateral appointment of a lieutenant governor Wednesday is quickly deemed to be legal, that could end the stalemate, but that prospect seems remote given his action appears to violate the state’s constitution and will be challenged.
The damage is far from limited to the L.G.B.T. community. But it’s that community and its supporters that likely will have to temper their expectations more than most as their life plans and rights remain stuck in limbo.
There is still time for the Senate to do the right thing, go back to work vote on marriage, school control and the other vital local budget issues on hold. If Duane is correct that he has the votes in hand on marriage, that of course would be a sweet victory indeed — and one that should bode well for the chamber soon, perhaps in 2010, finishing up its long-neglected work on gender rights and school safety.