Yesterday the New York Senate rejected a bill that would have given same-sex couples the ability to marry. Needless to say, we are deeply disappointed in the outcome. We’ve been fighting for marriage for same-sex couples in New York for years now. We brought an unsuccessful legal challenge back in 2004. Our colleagues at the New York Civil Liberties Union brought a case on behalf of a lesbian couple in Monroe County that resulted in the first appellate court decision requiring the state to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who legally married elsewhere. And we and the NYCLU have been lobbying hard for passage of the marriage bill.
The vote wasn’t nearly as close as many expected — 38 opposed to 24 in favor. But the way it played out offers a glimmer of hope that marriage may come to New York sooner rather than later. Only one senator, Ruben Diaz, Sr., was willing to speak out against the bill. His speech was especially awkward: He berated his democratic colleagues for allowing the bill to come to a vote (essentially confirming an earlier agreement with democratic Senate leadership to keep the bill from a vote in exchange for his allegiance to the party), he urged Republicans not to be swayed by the threats of seemingly endless gay dollars being funneled to their political opponents, and he recited a list of other states that have rejected fairness for lesbian and gay couples. In other words, dirty politics and Chicken Little were the best he had to offer.
None of the other opponents of the bill — seven Democrats and all 30 of the Republicans — were willing to stand up and give a single reason why they opposed the bill. After the moving testimony of so many passionate supporters, including the Senate’s sole gay member Tom Duane, Brooklyn Democrat Eric Adams, and especially Westchester Democrat Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who talked about the pain she felt as a young girl when her gay brother was forced to move away because of her disapproving parents, they likely reasoned that there was nothing to be gained by resorting to the same tired scare tactics we have so often heard in this debate.
This kind of cowardliness is not the slightest bit comforting to those of us who had such hopes for the vote, but the silence illustrates a real lack of conviction on their part. We now know exactly where we stand with every senator. It’s now up to us to pull these senators’ heads out of the sand and let them know what it’s like when our families are denied the respect and protections that only come with marriage.