The Thousand Fathers of Marriage Inequality

ALBANY—What went wrong? Despite the spin, most everyone pushing for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage privately acknowledges that the 24-38

ALBANY—What went wrong?

Despite the spin, most everyone pushing for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage privately acknowledges that the 24-38 loss in the State Senate was a whopper, and while theories abound, there’s no clear explaination for how the bill was so soundly defeated.

Senator Eric Schneiderman started by blaming Republicans.

“If you look at the Assembly, there were lots of Republican yeses,” the liberal Manhattan Democrat said. “I don’t believe it. They clearly decided not to allow a vote of conscience. I know that there were Republicans that wanted to vote yes.”

That’s hardly fair, considering eight Democrats voted against the measure. Democrats—under the leadership of Malcolm Smith—took the chamber’s majority in 2008 after promising advocates that they would pass the marriage bill, and that they would pick candidates who would vote in favor. That did not happen; Joe Addabbo, a senator from southeast Queens, was elected over Serphin Maltese.

“If there wasn’t a vote today, I wouldn’t know in a street fight Joe Addabbo doesn’t have my back,” said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

Van Capelle’s organization had pushed extremely hard for a vote. In recent weeks, according to a Democratic senator familiar with the lobbying effort, they were the driving force. Someone like Senator Tom Duane, the only openly gay member of the chamber and the bill’s prime sponsor, became an accessory.

Duane certainly looked the part by the end of Tuesday. He closed the debate on the bill with a meandering 21-minute ramble that was the furthest thing from cogent. (You could argue this was a filibuster to give time to corral votes.) It included comprehensive thanks for every member and staffer, referenced Harriet Tubman (“she would be bringing people north. There were no street lights. They were in darkness”), his time volunteering as a teacher, his advanced age (“you know, I’m getting to be an older gay. I’ve got a new gay hip”) and a joke about why the measure was urgent.

“We are beating New Jersey. Today. They may have the Jets, they may have the Giants. They are not taking this away. We are beating them,” Duane said.

I asked Van Capelle if he thought Duane, conspicuously omitted from his organization’s press release, was strong enough of an advocate on the issue.

“I’m enormously proud of the—what’s it called—the fact that the Senate brought this bill to the floor for a debate today,” he replied, prompting me to repeat my question. “I’m proud of the senators who stood up for our community today.”

Duane’s colleagues defended him publicly and privately, but acknowledge that he and Van Capelle are not close.

“I don’t think they like each other. But that’s just their relationship,” said one Senate Democrat. “You know, Tom has a different style. Tom believes in killing things with kindness; Alan is aggressive. It can work: a yin and a yang, a good cop and a bad cop.”

But the friction wasn’t fatal, explained another Senate Democrat familiar with the lobbying: “They were always making efforts to coordinate, but I think the personal stuff was problematic. That could explain a few votes of a swing, but with this big a margin, there were other votes.”

Both Senators Carl Kruger and Hiram Monserrate voted against the measure, which appears the result of a chit cashed by Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., a consistently outspoken opponent of the bill and member of the “four amigos” faction.

(“If you look at my district, the communities that I represent, I’m a mosaic of ultra-Orthodox Jews, Christians, Muslims, a large Russian conservative population. There were letters and hundreds of phone calls, and the overwhelming sentiment was to oppose a same-sex marriage bill,” Kruger told me after the vote. Another hole in this theory: The fourth amigo, Pedro Espada Jr., voted in favor. Of Diaz, Kruger said, “Did he ask me how I was going to vote? For sure. Did I answer? Absolutely … there’s never a payback, just an open dialogue.”)

There’s also the radioactivity of David Paterson. He has pushed hard for a vote on the bill starting in March, hoping to increase his political standing, but according to numerous senators did not work to lobby or corral. His relationship with members on both sides of the aisle has systematically devolved.

“Nobody wants to do anything for this governor,” said one Senate Democrat, on background. Members—including Duane—were surprised when he showed up on the floor after the vote.

Duane swayed side to side as the governor decried “political intimidation.” He was asked what the new strategy is, in light of the defeat.

“The strategy is to win,” he replied.


The Thousand Fathers of Marriage Inequality