Friday, October 24, 2008

GayCityNews - Promising to 'Persevere'

GayCityNews - Promising to 'Persevere'

Promising to 'Persevere'
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Governor David A. Paterson addresses October 20 Empire State Pride Agenda Dinner.

Amidst growing reports of his stepped-up efforts to help the Democratic Party win control of the State Senate on November 4, Governor David Paterson made a triumphal appearance at the annual fall dinner of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) and chronicled the recent dramatic advances toward marriage equality in New York State.

The governor, in his remarks before a sold-old ballroom crowd at the Sheraton New York on October 20, held off on any specific prediction about when the Senate would take action to pass the marriage bill adopted last year by the Democratic-controlled Assembly, but he used a joke to drive home his point that control of that chamber is key to how the issue will play out.

Referring to his May memorandum to state agencies directing them to comply with a recent appellate court ruling that New York must recognize legal same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, Paterson quipped, "I knew that some of the opponents would take court action and I pleaded with them not to waste their money, but now I'm glad they did because they can't spend it on the upcoming election."

In early June, five Republican state senators filed suit in Bronx Supreme Court challenging the governor's authority in issuing the directive, despite the fact that the court ruling Paterson relied on is a binding statewide precedent.

At issue on the November ballot is the razor thin two-seat majority the Republicans hold after decades of unfettered control of the Senate. Though the GOP has on some occasions, even if only after years of delay, allowed progress on gay rights initiative - most prominently, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, or SONDA, in late 2002 - marriage equality and transgender rights legislation have not been matters its leadership has been willing to consider. Last month, at a Log Cabin Republican reception in Manhattan, Dean Skelos, the Long Island Republican who replaced Joe Bruno as the Senate majority leader, signaled that he was not prepared to change course on marriage equality, meaning it would continue to be denied a floor vote.

In the immediate aftermath of his sudden ascension to the governor's office in March, there were widespread press reports that Paterson, eager to get state government moving after the scandal that destroyed Eliot Spitzer's career, had brokered a truce with Bruno, then the Senate leader, effectively sidelining himself from the legislative election campaign. At the time, Democratic Party officials insisted that the governor was merely respecting the difference between the governing season and the politicking season - a distinction several observers noted had been lost on Spitzer.

That argument was borne out in early October when the New York Times reported that Paterson was aggressively courting political donors and taking the lead in an effort to raise $2 million to help Democrats win the two-plus seats they need to control the Senate.

Still, if the governor is adopting a more partisan focus in the weeks leading up to the election, it is still one whose edge is softened by both his humor and his recognition that even though a change in leadership might be necessary, bipartisanship may yet play a critical role in carrying the ball across the goal line.

After telling the dinner crowd, "We don't know what time it will be that the Senate will address this issue... hopefully as soon as possibly," Paterson, in remarks to reporters outside the banquet hall, said, "But I think really in New York there are enough senators in the Senate as it's comprised right now to pass this legislation."

Paterson is a man of the Senate, having served as minority leader there before Spitzer tapped him as his running mate in 2006. Yet, by ESPA's best count, six of the 30 Democrats in the Senate have stated in one way or the other their opposition to the marriage equality bill. Paterson might judge some of those opponents movable on the issue, but several - most notably, Reverend Ruben Diaz of the Bronx - will not be shaken, so the governor must have contemplated some number of Republicans willing to stand with the gay community, as three of their Assembly colleagues did last year. That is, if the Senate had leadership that would allow a vote.

Asked directly if he saw marriage equality as doable only with a bipartisan vote, Paterson offered something of a finesse, saying, "As with SONDA, if the bill ever passes in the Senate it would have bipartisan support, regardless of who is in the majority."

In what was presumably also a nod of his head to bipartisanship, the governor said that the progress that can be made during a floor debate itself was the reason "why I've always been in favor of meaningful legislation getting to the floor of the House and the Senate even if it loses, and I don't think it should take a majority vote in committee for some pieces of legislation to get there, even some that I would vote against."

Control of what bills get out of committee and to the floor for debate has always been the prerogative of the majority party in Albany; Paterson seemed clearly to be suggesting that Bruno and now Skelos have blocked movement by their own members toward more gay-friendly positions.

But he was also making the point that, even among Democrats, a tally taken today is likely not indicative of what may be possible even as early as next year.

"I think that about two weeks before the Assembly vote, had the vote been held it would have lost by five or six votes and yet it won by 24 votes," Paterson told reporters. "I think it's that moment when people really have to engage whether or not they want to deny people who really care about each other the right to... to formalize it in terms of an official wedding... You saw a number of assemblymembers who didn't even realize they would vote for the bill two weeks before voting aye."

In talking during the dinner about the Assembly vote last year, Paterson as he has done on other occasions, though using different examples, likened the struggle for LGBT equality to his experiences as an African American.

"When I was ten years old, I saw the vicious beating of 600 people at the Edmund Pettus Bridge right outside Selma, Alabama," the governor said. "Unfortunately my daughter, when she was ten years old, saw the film clips of a gay man who was beaten with the barrel of a gun and left on a fence to die in Laramie, Wyoming."

A moment later, Paterson pivoted to the responsibility that people of color have for standing with LGBT Americans in finding common cause.

"I am most pleased that a number of African-American and Hispanic legislators who at first were unable to see the congruence connection between the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people and our own struggles waged throughout the century were able to see it that night and voted for the legislation," he said of the evening the marriage bill cleared the Assembly.

Paterson concluded his dinner remarks in this vein, pointing to the need for coalition among a broad range of progressive groups active in Democratic Party politics.

"We're going to persevere," he pledged, "and we're going to do it with a new sheriff who's going to sign the marriage equality act."

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