Thursday, April 16, 2009

Paterson Unveils Same-Sex Marriage Bill - City Room Blog -

Paterson Unveils Same-Sex Marriage Bill - City Room Blog -

Paterson Unveils Same-Sex Marriage Bill
By Jeremy W. Peters AND Sewell Chan
David A. Paterson

Updated, 10:49 a.m. | Gov. David A. Paterson on Thursday announced he would introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, drawing on the soaring oratory of the civil rights movement to call on the Legislature to add New York to the four states that have already authorized such unions.

Comparing the status of gay men and lesbians to that of African-Americans, Jews, women and other groups who were historically excluded from full political and social equality, Mr. Paterson said he would lead a movement to authorize same-sex marriage. “We have a crisis of leadership today,” he declared. “We’re going to fill that vacuum today.”

Mr. Paterson is expected to take on a level of involvement unusual for a governor, inserting himself directly into the ongoing campaign in Albany to gather the votes needed to pass the bill. Currently the measure does not have enough support in the State Senate, which Democrats seized last fall and control by a thin margin, 32 to 30.

A number of Democrats have expressed reservations about legalizing marriage between gay and lesbian couples, but advocates of same-sex marriage have urged politicians to have a public debate and place themselves on the record by holding a roll-call vote, come what may.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who spoke immediately after the governor at a morning news conference at Mr. Paterson’s Midtown office, similarly cited New York’s history of civil rights. “This is where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony began the struggle for women’s suffrage. This is where the N.A.A.C.P. was founded 100 years ago — and they’re bringing their convention back to the city this summer. I’m happy today and still today New York City is a major center for worker’s rights, for immigrant rights and for gay rights.”

(The mayor paused the news conference for more than a minute after an electronic device went off, prompting the mayor to glare at the offender and begin his remarks again.)

It was Mr. Paterson who dominated the morning news conference. He decried what he called a “dysfunctional government” in Albany, and urged the leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature to act.

The Governor and the Mayor

Mr. Paterson, the state’s first black governor, compared the same-sex marriage debate today to the abolitionist and civil-rights movements in the 19th and 20th centuries.

I think the stirring debates of Daniel Webster, the thunder speeches of Frederick Douglass and the inspiring writings of Harriet Beecher Stow certainly were a catalyst for the great abolitionism movement in the mid-19th century, but it would have come to a screeching halt when probably the most painful and agonizing Supreme Court decision was rendered in 1857, when Dred Scott was denied the opportunity to escape slavery north of the 36th parallel.

But less than six years later, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Mr. Paterson compared the rapid progress of the same-sex marriage to the transformation of the status of black Americans — at least on paper — in the 1850s and 1860s.

Proposition 8, which overturned same-sex marriage in California last November, “left a number of advocates in a place of complete confusion and stunned disbelief.”

Mr. Paterson spoke with empathy for gay men and lesbians, calling for an end to “a legal system that has systematically discriminated against all of them.”

He added: “We have all known the wrath of discrimination, we have all felt the pain and insult of hatred. We stand to tell the world that we want equality for everyone. We stand to tell the world that we want marriage equality in New York State.”

“If we take no action, we will surely lose,” Mr. Paterson declared. “Maybe we’ve already lost. There is no gain without struggle.”

Mr. Paterson noted that his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, had introduced a similar bill in 2007. “I’m wondering if I’m in a time warp or have been sent someplace else in time,” he said, citing critics who said he was “rushing.”

“Didn’t we cry out for democracy, and didn’t we ask for the openness and transparency of government that we thought we deserved?”

“I am not in any way attempting to instruct the majority leader of the Senate or the speaker of the Assembly… I am here to speak against those who are antagonistic and antithetical and always have been, not only to marriage equality, but equality,” for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

“The reality is that for me this is the time to fulfill the dreams of our founding Constitution, which implored us to expand the rights of the union. Our founding Constitution has been expanded to include African-Americans, the right of women to vote, the right of immigrants to get citizenship in this country.”

Mr. Bloomberg said that while people with religious beliefs may differ in their views on marriage, it is not the place of the state to decide who may and who may not marry.

“It is not the state’s place to define marriage in a way that excludes a segment of the population from the legal benefits associated with marriage, and that’s why I’m here today,” he said.

The mayor said the “tide is turning” on same-sex marriage. “I’ve never believed that the State Legislature should only debate and vote on legislation that they are sure is going to pass,” he said. “That is not democracy. We have to have a debate. We have to have a vote.”

Other Politicians

The first two politicians to speak after the governor and mayor were Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell and State Senator Thomas K. Duane, who are Manhattan Democrats and gay men.

Mr. O’Donnell, who sponsored a previous bill to authorize same-sex marriage, noted that there were 85 votes in the Assembly for the 2007 bill.

“I was born in this state, I was raised in this state, I was educated in this state, I’m an elected official in this state, I pay taxes this state, I want a piece of paper from this government just like the rest of you,” declared Mr. O’Donnell, who represents the Upper West Side and is the brother of the entertainer Rosie O’Donnell.

Introducing Mr. Duane, Mr. Paterson cited Woodrow Wilson as saying that publication influences public policy more than legislation.

Mr. Duane vowed to carry the bill in the Senate. “I absolutely look forward to standing with you governor, when you sign this wonderful piece of legislation into law,” he said. “I know, we know, it’s going to take hard work and it’s going to take a bipartisan effort. And, governor, I know that you can do it.”

The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, who is lesbian, said this “the most thrilling press conference that I have ever been out.” Earlier in her life, she said, she would never have imagined standing with the governor and the mayor declaring their support for marriage equality.

“New Yorkers don’t want their neighbors treated differently than they are,” she declared.

The Political Background

New York has long been viewed as a leader on liberal social issues, but gay rights advocates here have recently found their efforts eclipsed by actions in other states like Iowa and Vermont, which have both moved in the last two weeks to make same-sex marriage legal.

Mr. Paterson and other state leaders who have been outspoken on the issue have said they found it humbling to watch as other states moved quicker than New York to grant gays and lesbians more civil rights.

Gay rights has become an emergent issue for the state’s top elected officials. In the last month, Senator Charles E. Schumer and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have both declared their support for legalizing same-sex marriage. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand also expressed her support on the issue for the first time in January when Mr. Paterson named her to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“You have a convergence of leadership,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, who is also a lesbian. “You’ve seen a lot of different steps that a lot of leaders in this state have taken over the course of the last few years. This has been an evolution.”

One senator in particular, Rubén Díaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister from the Bronx, has stepped up his efforts to defeat the same-sex marriage bill in recent days. As Mr. Paterson was announcing plans to introduce the legislation on Thursday morning, Mr. Díaz gathered with other Hispanic clergy leaders in the Bronx to object to the governor’s proposal. Mr. Díaz has said that he was especially troubled by the timing of the governor’s announcement, which came so close to the installation of the new Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, Timothy M. Dolan.

Among the throng of politicians and advocates around him were Representatives Steve Israel, Carolyn B. Maloney, Jerrold L. Nadler and José E. Serrano; Alan Van Capelle, Cathy Marino, Maria Carey and Marjorie Hill; Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, and Mike Fishman, president of S.E.I.U. Local 32BJ.

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