The Pride Agenda’s Pivot

ALBANY—The Empire State Pride Agenda has "pivoted" its strategy to legalize same-sex marriage: wait and "re-connect" this summer before addressing the issue in an extraordinary session in September, a shift from their no-holds-barred push earlier this year.

"You don't want people voting on this when they're just exhausted. The Senate is tired, and there's a lot of emotions there," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the powerful gay rights lobbying organization. "I would have preferred June weddings, but autumn weddings are just as nice in New York."

Van Capelle said he spoke with David Paterson last Thursday, as news broke of a deal that returned State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. to the chamber's Democratic conference as its majority leader. The governor said he was willing to put the bill out immediately, but the two agreed that it might be better to wait and let the State Senate "settle."

He would not be specific about whether his estimated vote-count has changed, but insisted that there were enough Republican senators committed to the measure to ensure its passage before the coup, and that there will be enough after Labor Day. (Not enough senators have admitted as much publicly.) The measure passed the Assembly in May, and its advocates were pushing for a floor vote in the Senate before the end of June. The attempted coup of June 8 preempted it.

"Everything was in flux, so we pivoted the message to, ‘No state senator should come home without addressing LGBT equality," Van Capelle said. "We took our ads off the air because it seemed like a waste of money at that money, because we didn't exactly know who we would be targeting our ads towards. We decided to pivot the message."

The result was a strong phone lobbying effort directed at senators who were allies of the measure, urging them not to leave Albany without acting on same-sex marriage. Now, Van Capelle said he will travel the state to "re-connect" with senators of all stripes.

The thinking is that senators who were once amenable are now irritable. A long debate now might be explosive. I asked if LGBT activists was still energized, or if the momentum had slowed. He told me about this year's Tea Dance in East Hampton, held this weekend, where Paterson, Kirsten Gillibrand and Tom Suozzi mingled with close to 1,500 other guests, some of whom paid over $1,000 for tickets that were retailing online for $100.

"When the governor came through, people applauded," Van Capelle said. "It was a total home run. We had two Mr. Softee trucks pull up, a hot dog cart. It was just a real fun event."