Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gay Marriage Fight Is Slow to Stir New York Foes - NYTimes.com

Poor Maggie......


Gay Marriage Fight Is Slow to Stir New York Foes - NYTimes.com

ALBANY — Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn was feeling distressed.
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Times Topics: Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships

The State Assembly had just voted to legalize same-sex marriage, after gay rights groups flooded the Legislature with visits, phone calls and e-mail messages. Where, he wanted to know, was the other side?

“Wake up! Where are you?” Mr. Hikind, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, said in an interview. “It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and you’re losing — big time.”

As the Legislature considers whether to make New York the next state to legalize same-sex marriage, social conservatives have been largely missing from the debate in Albany.

The interest groups working to legalize marriage for gay couples have been laying the groundwork for more than four years, lobbying lawmakers and funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to their campaigns. And last week they began running television commercials in three of the state’s largest media markets promoting same-sex marriage as an equal rights issue.

Their opponents, who are just beginning to organize, say they feel outgunned and underfinanced.

The difficulties in New York echo those that conservatives have faced throughout the Northeast. Over the last six weeks, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire have all moved to allow gay couples to wed.

The region has been challenging for opponents of same-sex marriage, in part, because the measures are being decided by state legislatures — not voter referendums where the opponents’ ability to motivate large numbers of voters, rather than influence institutional players, has been an advantage.

“It is the lack of a proposition or referendum,” the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said. “There is a disconnect within the constituencies. Many of them really have no idea how to present their grievances.”

In New York, the National Organization for Marriage, whose resources have been stretched thin from other campaigns in the Northeast, began making phone calls to recruit supporters only late last week.

The state’s Roman Catholic bishops have been somewhat distracted, too, having focused their lobbying energies this session on defeating a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse to bring civil claims, and have appeared unprepared for the battle over marriage.

“Frankly, the governor caught us all by surprise when he put this bill out there,” said Dennis Proust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference, the bishops’ political arm. “We weren’t expecting it.”

Other groups that typically take the lead on conservative causes, like New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and the Conservative Party of New York State, say they lack the resources to mount a broad media campaign.

And the state does not have the large numbers of evangelical Christians and Mormons that have helped fuel movements to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples in other states, like California.

“It’s been a little bit of a challenge in New York,” said Peter S. Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, the Washington-based conservative advocacy group led by Tony Perkins. “The pro-family network in New York is not as well organized as it is in other states.”

The only statewide organization dedicated to preserving New York’s marriage laws is the Coalition to Save Marriage, an alliance of conservative leaders that has no headquarters or staff.

“I wish I would have started six years ago,” said Maggie Gallagher, who founded the National Organization for Marriage, based in Princeton, N.J., in 2007. “I would have a state organization. I would have a director who’s a National Organization for Marriage person who’s directly lobbying. But that’s not where I am.”

The State Assembly passed Gov. David A. Paterson’s bill to give same-sex couples the right to wed by a vote of 89 to 52 last week, and gay rights advocates are pushing for a vote in the closely divided Senate before the Legislature adjourns at the end of June.

Supporters have a financial advantage, too. The National Organization for Marriage said it planned to spend a minimum of $100,000 on its efforts in New York, mainly on telephone and e-mail appeals to voters and the purchase of ads on Web sites. The Empire State Pride Agenda, the leading gay rights organization, is already spending at least twice that on its TV advertising campaign and has hired Patricia Lynch Associates, one of Albany’s most influential lobbying firms, for $10,000 a month.

To be sure, those advantages do not guarantee that advocates will prevail in the 62-member Senate, and supporters concede they still need several votes to pass the marriage measure.

Still, social conservatives in New York state have seemed somewhat fragmented in recent years, lacking a galvanizing issue like the death penalty, over which they waged epic battles with Govs. Mario M. Cuomo and Hugh L. Carey.

“Everybody is operating in their own stratosphere,” said Michael R. Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State.

Mr. Long said the Conservative Party would do what it could with its limited arsenal: e-mail messages to legislators, news releases and a call to action on its blog.

“If I had the money or the wherewithal, naturally I’d like to be on radio or TV,” he said.

The efforts have also been hurt by the lack of a statewide political figure to lead the opposition. The state’s two senators, governor, legislative leaders and attorney general all support allowing gay couples to wed.

Even the new archbishop of New York, Timothy M. Dolan, whose upbeat personality and communication savvy suggest he could be a powerful voice on public policy, has no plans to step into the debate, his spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, said last week.

“Not at this point, no,” Mr. Zwilling said. “He’s letting the conference take their normal role,” referring to the bishops’ political arm.

Mr. Paterson said the archbishop did not raise the issue when the two met last month.

Still, there have been stirrings since the Assembly passed the marriage bill.

Hispanic churches organized a rally outside Mr. Paterson’s office in Midtown Manhattan on Sunday that drew thousands of people.

The phone solicitations by the National Organization for Marriage are focusing on districts where opponents believe senators’ positions can be influenced. Residents who oppose same-sex marriage are being asked to donate money or contact their senator.

“The other side, as far as the time they’ve spent organizing in New York, it’s clearly the case that they’re ahead of us,” said Brian S. Brown, the group’s executive director. “But we have only partially been on the field of play.” He added: “Wait till we get on the field.”

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