Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stance on Same-Sex Marriage Brings Surprises for Paterson - NYTimes.com

The Empire Zone - Stance on Same-Sex Marriage Brings Surprises for Paterson - NYTimes.com

ALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson’s decision to direct state agencies to recognize marriages of same-sex couples elevated his status in the eyes of many gays and lesbians to something of a celebrity.

But Mr. Paterson, below, has unexpectedly discovered that some of the people who are most grateful to him for issuing the order are, in fact, parents with a gay son or a lesbian daughter.

The governor said in an interview last week that he had been approached by several people who expressed their gratitude. “What struck me were the straight people who came up to me,” he said. “This has happened four or five times since. They’ll say: ‘We’re so glad you did this. Our daughter is gay or our son is gay.’ I found that to be so very touching.”

One evening two weeks ago, while he was having dinner with his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, at a restaurant at 105th Street and Broadway, the governor said, a man and a woman approached him, introduced themselves, and then each hugged him. Their son was gay, they told Mr. Paterson, and they wanted to let the governor know how thankful they were about his policy.

By and large, Mr. Paterson said, the response to his order, which he issued to all state agencies on May 14 through his legal counsel, David Nocenti, had been fairly tame. He said he had not noticed much of an outpouring of reaction from either supporters or opponents of same-sex marriage.

“Rosie didn’t call. I was a little hurt by that,” Mr. Paterson joked, referring to the actress and former talk show host Rosie O’Donnell. Ms. O’Donnell is a native New Yorker who has four children with her partner, Kelli Carpenter, and is the sister of Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, an openly gay lawmaker who has been a champion of same-sex marriage.

“I was kind of thinking that she would,” Mr. Paterson added with a chuckle.

Not that his order to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside New York has gone unnoticed. The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian group that has fought efforts to legalize same-sex marriages across the country, filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in the Bronx this month seeking to block the governor’s directive.

The one memorable phone call that Mr. Paterson said he received shortly after his order became widely publicized was from the Rev. Al Sharpton, a supporter of civil rights for gay people. Mr. Paterson said Mr. Sharpton called to offer thanks, but also to take a friendly jab at the governor for disclosing that he became comfortable around gay people at a young age because two close Paterson family friends were gay.

“He was calling on behalf of Uncle Stanley and Uncle Ronald, saying I’d be in trouble for outing them,” Mr. Paterson said, referring to a gay couple who often took care of him and his brother, Daniel.

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