Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Albany G.O.P. Leader Is Guest of Gay Group -

See end quote by Teresa Saywood

Albany G.O.P. Leader Is Guest of Gay Group -

Dean G. Skelos, the State Senate majority leader and the Albany Legislature’s top Republican, reiterated his opposition to gay marriage on Tuesday night but attended a fund-raiser for a prominent Republican gay and lesbian group as he sought to broaden his party’s appeal for the fall elections.

Mr. Skelos, of Long Island, said he would take up and pass legislation aimed at preventing bullying of gay and lesbian students in schools. The predominantly Democratic Assembly has passed such legislation for several years, but it has long been stalled in the Senate. This month, New York City put similar rules in place for its schools.

“I appreciate your inviting me,” Mr. Skelos said during the event, a fund-raiser for a political action committee associated with the Log Cabin Republicans, which was held at a private residence in Manhattan.

“Sometimes the media will say, ‘What are you doing here?’ You’re Republicans and I’m proud of you for being Republicans and I’m proud of being a Republican and standing here with each and every one of you,” he added.

The appearance of a Senate majority leader was unusual. Mr. Skelos took over as majority leader this summer from Joseph L. Bruno, who in his 14 years in the post appeared at only one prominent event held by a gay group — a 2006 lobbying event held by the Empire State Pride Agenda.

Jeff Cook, the legislative advisor to the Log Cabin Republicans of New York State, said, “We do think this is significant, that the majority leader wants to reach out to the gay community.” The group worked closely with Senate Republicans on the bullying law and has long pushed lawmakers to approve gay marriage.

“Our job is to move Republicans in that direction,” Mr. Cook said. “We know that’s the right side of history.”

Edward F. Cox, the state chairman of the McCain-Palin campaign, also attended the event.

“They are part of the Republican Party here and they’re part of what we’ll need to win the state,” Mr. Cox said in an interview before the event.

The Senate is the Republican Party’s last statewide power base, but the party has only a one-seat edge. Both parties are scrambling to find allies and cash for what will be a hard-fought sprint over the next two months. The Log Cabin Republicans committed themselves to spending $60,000 on Republican candidates for the Senate and $15,000 on those for the Assembly.

Senate Republicans have been seen by many Democratic lawmakers as the greatest obstacle to passing legislation of interest to gay and lesbian groups, particularly since the Assembly passed a bill that would legalize gay marriage and Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, has emerged as a forceful advocate for gay rights.

Senator Thomas K. Duane, a Manhattan Democrat and one of a relatively few openly gay or lesbian lawmakers, said, “I do not understand why the Log Cabin people would continue to invest with the Senate Republicans,” adding that the party has been “holding back progress” for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Senate Republicans, he said, had “impeded progress” and taken years to pass bills related to hate crimes and discrimination.

“How many groups give money to Republicans at election time because hope springs eternal?” he added.

But Patrick Sammon, the president of the national Log Cabin Republicans, said his group could play a major role in tipping the balance on marriage votes across the country by persuading even a few Republicans to change their minds.

“The reason we don’t have a constitutional amendment vote on the ballot in Massachusetts to repeal marriage,” he said, “is because a third of Republicans voted against” that amendment. The repeal amendment lost by five votes, he said, adding that seven Republicans voted against it.

“The progress we’ve seen around the country is where Republicans provide the margin of victory,” he said.

The contrast of views even among Republicans in Albany was on display. Several Assembly members who last year had voted in support of gay marriage were reiterating that support on Tuesday night while Mr. Skelos and Senator John J. Flanagan looked on.

“You can’t do it halfway,” said Assemblyman Joel M. Miller, a Poughkeepsie Republican, adding, “Gay marriage is absolutely right in America and everywhere else, and I’m proud to stand for it.”

Mr. Skelos voted against antidiscrimination legislation based on sexual orientation in the past but in favor of a hate-crimes law. He said in an interview that he had not changed his opposition to gay marriage, but said that “we agree on many other issues.”

One of the most compelling speakers at the event, attended by more than 100 people, was Assemblywoman Teresa R. Sayward, an upstate Republican who emerged as an unlikely champion of gay marriage during the Assembly vote last year. In the most talked-about speech during the dramatic vote, Ms. Sayward, an observant Catholic, described her son’s struggle to come to grips with his gay identity, and how it shaped her views.

On Tuesday night, she called the vote for marriage “a very Republican and conservative one,” and added, “We believe that government should stay out of people’s lives and let them live in quiet dignity.”

Coming from one of the state’s most conservative areas, she said that one of her Republican colleagues told her after the vote that she would never be elected again.

“I stand here to tell you I am running unopposed,” she told the audience.

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