Are We On Board?

Is Governor Paterson’s Gay Marriage Gambit a Gimmick?

THE INNER CIRCLENew York Governor David Paterson will introduce a bill today that will legalize same-sex marriage in New York, but many gay activists aren’t happy about it. Why? While a similar bill has passed before in the state assembly, support for the bill in the Senate is virtually unknown, despite it being controlled by Democrats.

Sen. Tom Duane, the state’s lone openly gay state Senator said “This is what I think: This isn’t Las Vegas, and I’m not willing to gamble with a new strategy on anyone’s civil rights.” Paterson, whose political fortunes have been on the wane may very well be using the recent decisions in Iowa and Vermont as a political jumping off point to boost his reelection, but does that mean we shouldn’t get on board?

Paterson has long been a champion of gay rights, so we’re not arguing that his motives are purely political, but his decision to push for gay marriage in New York appears to have been made solely on his own, leaving gay rights groups as surprised by his announcement as anyone else.

There’s really two major factors at work here. The first is that there’s an undeniable momentum created by the Iowa and Vermont victories and we’ve argued before that the LGBT movement should capitalize on the current high profile of gay and lesbian rights before the public’s attention moves to other things. New York is a fairly liberal state in many ways, but upstate New York is decidedly conservative.

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx has vowed to defeat any gay marriage bill that comes up in the Senate. This leads to the second force at work, which is basically, that people don’t like Gov. Paterson. His decision to bring gay marriage to the Legislature appears to have been made without gathering up the support the bill needs to pass. Alan Van Cappelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda puts it bluntly, “We are closer than people think, but we’re not there yet.”

So, the question becomes “Can Paterson rally support for the bill?” All signs seem to indicate that he can’t. The Governor has yet to build a track record of directing legislation in the state legislature and a contentious issue like gay marriage is an unlikely one for him to suddenly find himself in a position of influencing policy.

reports that

“C.W. Post political science professor Stanley Klein said Paterson is making a transparent effort to boost dismal approval ratings. Klein predicted the move will backfire.

“Being the flag bearer for gay marriage when you know it can’t pass the Senate doesn’t do you any good,” said Klein, who is also a Republican committeeman in Suffolk. “The Republicans are still stung by the fact that they lost the majority, so they’re going to vote unanimously against anything he brings up.”

This puts the gay community in a unique and problematic position. If it sits by and refuses to support the Governor’s efforts, it could be accused of not willing to take on tough battles. If it supports the Governor and the bill fails, you’ll have angry grassroots activists marching in the streets, but ore importantly, the fight over the bill could derail future efforts.

Gimmick or not, threat of failure or not, our feeling is that any gay rights battle, won or lost, is a win for our community. The reality is, the struggle for gay and lesbian rights is one that will ultimately prevail, so long as we keep making our case. Paterson’s announcement today will be yet another opportunity for us to do so. Do we want our message to be, “Well, it looks like it won’t pass, so why bother?” or “We applaud the Governor for taking a principled stand and will fight for gay marriage anytime, anywhere?”

This seems a no brainer.

Yes, politics is the art of the actual. Yes, the victories in Vermont and Iowa were the result of long and coordinated efforts by many LGBT groups working in concert. However, opportunity knocks. We owe it to ourselves to answer.