If Same-Sex Marriage Fails, ‘Catastrophic’ Fallout Warns Advocate [Updated]

Andrew Cuomo’s self-imposed deadline to pass same-sex marriage is approaching, on June 20, and so far, the votes to pass the bill have not materialized.

That’s problematic, according to Jeff Campagna, who pushed for a more transparent public education effort confrontational lobbying effort during the 2009 effort to get the measure passed in the State Senate. The vote failed. [Update: Campagna took objection to my characterization of his work. He also notes he was not lobbying legislators. That was largely left up to Empire State Pride Agenda.]

With Cuomo’s new deadline looming, Campagna, is warning that another failed vote may not be bad for Cuomo, but some advocates could find themselves unemployed.

The consequences of a failed vote are catastrophic.  If the bill fails, it will die and the LGBT public will demand the resignations of the heads of all the involved LGBT organizations.  Waiting to put the bill to a vote until there are enough votes to pass it is the right thing to do.

Here’s a transcript of our email conversation:

Azi Paybarah: You were pretty involved in the 2009 effort. what are you doing this time around?
Jeff Campagna: I devote most of my time to consulting pro-equality candidates, businesses, and organizations nationwide and working with ThePowerOnline.org to build support for amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include LGBT people.  In New York, I’ve consulted with a number of grass roots groups, non-profits, PACs, elected officials, and candidates, working to elect and re-elect pro-marriage New York State senators and to derail the campaigns of candidates who have double-crossed LGBT voters, like Hiram Monserratte and Harold Ford, Jr.


Azi Paybarah: How is 2011’s effort, by comparison?  how would you describe it? it seems to me to be, for now, at least, much less confrontational. is it?

Jeff Campagna: It’s basically the same.  In 2009 we knew we needed Republican votes to win and we didn’t know where or if we were going to get them.  Senators and advocates obtained private assurances before the vote that did not materialize on the Senate floor.  We’re in exactly the same situation today.  Unless the strategy has changed to get people who have previously opposed marriage equality to come out before the vote to voice their support on the record, the tactical differences are merely cosmetic.

As for the tone, it’s definitely less confrontational.  This time you don’t see the head of Empire State Pride Agenda publicly attacking bill’s sponsor.  Nor do you see many activists protesting outside senators’ offices.  This time it’s very laid back.  It’s very striking. The legislative session ends in just a couple of weeks, but there is no sense of urgency.

I think part of this is because there is a real disconnect between the LGBT community, which sees all these celebrities coming out for marriage equality, and the straight population which really isn’t paying that much attention to the issue.  For example, the most conspicuous aspect of the effort this time around is the Human Rights Campaign’s YouTube video series, New Yorkers for Marriage Equality, which shows celebrities stating their support for the issue.  Having lots of gay friendly celebrities like Ana Wintour and Vanessa Williams telling me they are for marriage equality is very nice and makes me feel very confident that my position is the cool one, but it has about as much political impact on Republicans as Obama telling me he’s a Democrat.

Azi Paybarah: Strategically, is the 2011 strategy working?

Jeff Campagna: Not yet.  When push comes to shove, it doesn’t matter how many people are phone banking or how many Desperate Housewives support the cause.  Not one senator, Democrat or Republican, who voted against marriage in 2009 has announced support for the bill in 2011.  That’s the only way I can tell if a strategy is working.

Whether this bill passes is ultimately going to come down to whether Governor Cuomo sits down with senators, Republican and Democrat, and makes the deals that need to be made.  So far he hasn’t and frankly, I’m starting to get concerned that he won’t. That doesn’t mean there’s no hope.  I’m confident that if we can get even one senator to change his/her position, even a Democrat like Addabo, everything will change and others will follow suit. But ultimately, it’s in the Governor’s hands.  He’s got to tell Democrats that a no vote will be seen as a hostile vote and he’s got to make deals with Republicans.

Azi Paybarah: What were the lessons after the 2009 failed vote?

Jeff Campagna: We should have learned two things.

First, and most important, we should have learned how to count votes.  In 2009, we counted votes that that never materialized, relying on private conversations and promises.  This time around, I hope we’ve learned that nobody should be counted as yes vote unless they have made their position public.  “Undeclared” and “Undecided” are as good as “no”.

Second, we learned that marriage equality is just a political issue for Republicans.  When 100% of the Republican caucus voted against marriage in 2009, it became clear they were not voting their conscience, but that they were trying to maintain power.  The good news about this is that it means deals can, and should, be made.

Azi Paybarah: Cuomo has said he won’t put the bill up for a vote if it doesn’t have enough votes to pass. it seems like they don’t, yet, have it. what’s the fallout if there is A) no vote or B) a failed vote?

Jeff Campagna: As long as there is a vote this year, I don’t see any fallout.  I can’t tell you why the Governor has imposed a deadline of the end of this session.  The same thing happened in 2009, but the bill didn’t come to a vote until December.  I don’t know what’s different about this year.

The consequences of a failed vote are catastrophic.  If the bill fails, it will die and the LGBT public will demand the resignations of the heads of all the involved LGBT organizations.  Waiting to put the bill to a vote until there are enough votes to pass it is the right thing to do.

If Same-Sex Marriage Fails, ‘Catastrophic’ Fallout Warns Advocate [Updated]