While Vermont moves toward legalizing gay marriage and New Hampshire makes its own stab, both of New York’s U.S. senators are now on record supporting the full implementation of same-sex marriage rights. Yes, last night, Sen. Chuck Schumer announced he’s finally on board with full civil rights, and not this “just call it something different” bullshit. Here’s what it took to get here.
Democrat Sen. Schumer is New York’s senior senator, elected in 1999. Up until now, Schumer only supported civil unions. But in a reversal — or an “evolution,” as politicos like to call it — Schumer announced at a dinner for the Empire State Pride Agenda last night that not only does he fully support gay marriage, he wants to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
Schumer, along with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, was always one of those politicians you suspected, deep down, supported full gay marriage. But that wasn’t his policy, so he didn’t receive the benefit of the doubt, and instead received the ire of the gay community, including many of their wealthy campaign contributors. And when Hillary decided to run for president, “there was no way Schumer could move on this topic – no matter how much he might have wanted to follow the lead set by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his LG, David Paterson – especially since Barack Obama also took the civil-union-only approach,” argues Elizabeth Benjamin in the Daily News.
To many, including myself, Schumer’s change of opinion constitutes a “flip flop.” Yes, as a backer of civil unions, Schumer was technically considered a gay ally. But that position also represents support for “separate but equal,” and that’s simply not good enough.
Schumer’s fellow New York senator is Kirsten Gillibrand, who replaced Clinton when she became secretary of state. Gillibrand maintains she’s always supported full gay marriage — except she hasn’t. When Gov. David Paterson appointed her senator, however, she made some hurried phone calls to leading gay activist organizations (including Empire State and the Human Rights Campaign), who all gave her a seal of approval.
As a congresswoman, however, Gillibrand never really supported gay marriage. Just civil unions. She said it was her personal belief that gay men and women should be able to get married, but wanted the terminology left up to the state.
When we labeled Gillibrand a “gay rights flip-flooper” in this post, the senator’s communications director Matt Canter quickly got in touch with Queerty to argue his boss was not a “flip-flopper” because she had always supported gay marriage. He pointed to this exchange between Gillibrand and the New York Post‘s obnoxious conservative Fred Dicker back in 2006 when she was running for Congress:
*Dicker:* On gay marriage, do you have a position on that?
*Gillibrand*: I think we should have a federal protection for civil unions so that everyone can have the benefit of a private contract to allow someone to go to the emergency room, to the hospital …..
*Dicker:* … I Understand that but …
*Gillibrand:* But I think the state should decide what to call it. If the state wants to call it “marriage,” (then) the state can decide.
*Dicker:* As a voter in New York State, do you think the state should legalize, as the governor would like and as Speaker Silver would like, same sex marriage?
*Gillibrand:* Yeah, as a New Yorker, I would support that.
See the difference? Back then, Gillibrand supported civil unions, but didn’t consider full gay marriage to be an important enough civil right for a federal mandate.
Gillibrand’s actual stance at the time was not the same thing as “full gay marriage supporter.”
And now that Gillibrand supports full gay marriage — a decision rendered overnight after being appointed senator — we’ve labeled her a “flip-flopper.” A good flip-flopper, but still someone who changed her mind when it was convenient, not morally (and legally) right. So we’re not budging on the label. (The Daily News‘ Benjamin, however, did: “OK, so under pressure from several fronts, I have changed the title of this post to eliminate the word ‘flips,’ which seems to be upsetting to some people as it has a ‘negative connotation.'”)
But here we are, on March 23, 2009, with both New York senators supporting full gay marriage. This is a great thing. But let’s not pretend for even a second that it took anything but legwork and timing to get both of them to upgrade from backing just civil unions. And let’s call bullshit on them if they ever say, like Gillibrand’s rep Canter does, that they “always” supported gay marriage.