Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gay City News > Next Steps, in Albany and Washington

Gay City News > Next Steps, in Albany and Washington:


FROM THE EDITOR: Marriage equality advocacy groups showed something of a tin ear as they celebrated their success at converting State Senate seats from the “no” column to the “yes” list this year.

To be sure, five districts represented by senators who voted no last December — including three in Queens — have now elected representatives committed to supporting our right to marry. That is to the credit of the Empire State Pride Agenda, Marriage Equality New York, the Human Rights Campaign, and Fight Back NY.

It is also true that those pro-equality senators who lost their reelection bids were undone by factors wholly separate from their advocacy for gay marriage. The problem is that the number of such losses is at least one, perhaps as many as four, and in all likelihood three. Which means that the number of public Senate supporters of marriage equality will have risen by only two, to 26, in a 62-member chamber. The path to success on gay marriage in New York remains fraught, especially since, under the likely scenario, Republicans would retake the Senate. Only in the past month has the Senate GOP leader, Dean Skelos, signaled a willingness to consider allowing a second vote on the issue.

In Washington, the situation is considerably more depressing. A House of Representatives led by John Boehner holds out no realistic hope for progress on our issues — even as basic as an employment nondiscrimination measure — which stymied the current large Democratic majorities in Congress. Only the still-breathing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal effort, which could yet be approved by the lame duck Senate, offers opportunity for progress.

In this climate, there are several bottom lines our community must insist on.

In Washington, it is wholly unacceptable for President Barack Obama or Majority Leader Harry Reid to settle for anything less than passage of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell language already approved by the House in the Pentagon spending bill. That language was already a compromise — laying out conditions that must still be met before the policy would actually be phased out and offering no guarantee that gay and lesbian soldiers allowed to serve would enjoy nondiscrimination protection on the job.

A number of Republicans said they couldn’t vote on repeal because a special Pentagon task force studying implementation issues had not yet issued its report. That document will be available no later than December 1. There are no excuses left for anyone to dally. If this policy is not repealed, Obama, our community’s “fierce advocate,” will face LGBT voters in 2012 with only a hate crimes law and a grab bag of executive orders and actions to his credit. In a contest that will surely be hard fought, the president ought to know how risky neglecting such a key Democratic constituency is.

In Albany, we will need an all-hands strategy — that includes our friends among the Senate Democrats, those among us who are Log Cabin Republicans, and our new governor — if we are to see progress on marriage equality and transgender civil rights.

Should the three undecided races result in either a continued narrow Democratic majority or a 31-31 tie, our Senate allies, led by Tom Duane, the out gay Chelsea Democrat who is the lead sponsor on both marriage equality and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, must press for assurances that whatever governing structure the chamber establishes allows both bills to receive floor consideration when we are confident we can prevail.

GENDA is likely at or very close to the number of votes needed for passage; its tabling by the Judiciary Committee in June was unconscionable. If Duane is to effectively lobby for more support on marriage, he must be able to assure his colleagues that their courage in stepping forward publicly will be reciprocated by a floor vote on the question.

If the Senate, as seems more likely at this moment, is led by Republicans, the onus will fall on Skelos to ensure fair treatment. When the GOP last led the Senate in 2008, leadership refused to countenance floor debate on either marriage or GENDA. At a Log Cabin Republican event on October 12, Skelos said he would take the question of holding another marriage equality debate to his conference for discussion. Though that statement has widely been misreported as a “promise” of another vote on gay marriage, Skelos made clear to Gay City News’ Duncan Osborne that he was only pledging to bring the matter up with his fellow Republicans. Clearly, advocates, especially Log Cabin, will have to work determinedly to ensure that Skelos translates a friendly cocktail party message into meaningful responsiveness to the goals of an important part of the New York State family.

Should the GOP, whose 30 members voted unanimously against marriage equality last December, take control, it will place a premium on the political capital our new governor, Andrew Cuomo, is willing to put into our battles. At the Pride Agenda Fall Dinner in Manhattan, the governor-elect said, “I don’t want to be the governor who just proposed marriage equality. I don’t want to be the governor who just lobbies for marriage equality. I don’t want to be the governor who just fights for marriage equality. I want to be the governor who signs the law that makes marriage equality a reality.”

Making something a reality in Albany is often not an easy or even pretty task. But amidst all the deal-making, often out of the public eye, the things that get done are usually what one of the major bargainers makes a priority. We must be willing to hold Governor Cuomo accountable for his priorities.

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