The irony of the drama surrounding the future of Democratic leadership in the State Senate is that whether or not current Minority Leader Malcolm Smith retains his power partly hinges on an issue the party tried to keep under the radar during campaign season: same-sex marriage.
In the run-up to the November 4 elections, Smith brushed off questions about whether he’d support same-sex marriage legislation by saying his priority was the economy. When pressed, Smith returned to his talking points about the economy.
Even activists at the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state’s largest gay-rights lobbying group, were notably muted about how hard they would push to get a marriage bill passed should Democrats take over. The group declined requests for comment even as same-sex marriage supporters poured money into State Senate races.
Now, the issue is out in the open. Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. of the Bronx, who opposes same-sex marriage, has said he won’t support a majority leader who puts the legislation up for a vote.
Gay rights activist Allen Roskoff said, “I think nobody wanted it to be the centerpiece of the election, nobody wanted the fate of the Senate to be based on gay marriage. The gay issue was being played in robocalls in very dangerous, unwarranted, fearful ways. If you want to achieve your goals, you do it in a respectful, un-frightening way.”
“Do we want the Democrats to be a one-issue party?” he asked. “No.”
But right now it feels a little bit like that.
Roskoff also that when Democrats do find themselves in the majority, they have and obligation to push for same-sex marriage.
“The Senate has to clearly move forward. That was a commitment that was made. And I have a lot of faith in him [Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith]. We’re not dealing with enemies, we’re dealing with friends. The governor is a friend, the Assembly Speaker [Sheldon Silver] is a friend, and the Senate Majority is a leader is a friend. But should it be done on day one? No.”
Roskoff said he trusts the Empire State Pride Agenda and legislators like State Senator Tom Duane to find the best strategy to advance the cause.