The Marriage Vote and The Aftermath
December 2nd, 2009

A bill legalizing same-sex marriage was voted down in the New York Senate 24-38, an overwhelming defeat. Eight Democrats voted against the bill; all Republicans voted against it without saying anything more than the word “no.”

For hours Democrats spoke on the floor about why they would vote in favor of same-sex marriage. Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson revealed that her brother was gay and felt the need to flee to France after being ostracized by her family. She recounted her efforts to reconnect with him years later and how she finally found him and convinced him that, despite what other family members thought, she wanted to be part of his life.

Sen. Eric Adams spoke about the inequalities that blacks had to suffer before gaining equal rights. Many other Democrats spokes at length about there reasons for supporting the measure.

No Republicans contributed to the debate. Finally, Sen. Tom Duane, the only openly gay member of the Senate, stood to give his final arguments. Duane seemed a bit uneasy, not his usual fiery self. And then he uttered the phrase  “Do over.” 

He pleaded with his colleagues to vote in favor of the bill so that another vote would not be needed in the future. He recalled past mistakes when equality was at hand but instead lost. Duane finished quietly.

Then Republicans requested a slow roll call–meaning each Senator would be able to speak about how he or she was voting. Democratic nay votes came quickly: Sens. Joseph Addabbo, Darrel Aubertine, Ruben Diaz, Sr., Shirley Huntley, Carl Kruger, Hiram Monserrate. Republicans also chimed in in the negative, softly saying, “No.” When it was his turn to vote, Sen. Pedro Espada said “Yes,” and “Yes to as many do-overs” as necessary.

Things started to look grim for the bill. By the time Sen. Kevin Parker was called upon to vote it was clear the measure was doomed. He grew visibly upset and called out members for being scared about “getting reelected.” But the Democratic nays continued. George Onorato and Bill Stachowski also voted in the negative.  When the bill was announced as “lost” by a vote of 24-38 there was a surge to the exists. Outside, protestors chanted and screamed.

Duane stood in the corner of the room taking questions from the press. He said he had been “betrayed,” but wouldn’t name names. He said he had assurances that didn’t pan out.

Then Gov. David Paterson made his way into the press scrum, sidling up to Duane. He went to console Duane, but the Senator insisted he continue speaking to the press, as he had committed to do so. Paterson waited. Then questions were fired at Paterson. Did he regret bringing the bill to a vote, now that it had been defeated? Paterson said he did not regret it.

“Someone told me that governors come to the floor after victories; I come to the floor after there are resolutions of issues I believe in,” Paterson said. “I didn’t like today’s resolution, and I’ll work harder to make sure that gay and lesbian men and women are able to make the same choices in this society and entitled to over 1,300 rights that come with marriage.”
Senate Conference Leader John Sampson slid his way behind both men as the questions continued. Sampson refused to say that he had been trying to convince his Democratic colleagues to vote a certain way.

Duane then seemingly on cue insisted that it is important to keep a Democratic majority in the Senate to ensure that issues like same-sex marriage will actually get to a floor vote, regardless of the result. Republicans never brought the issue to a vote during the decades they controlled the Senate. But Democrats held off bringing the bill to a vote until the very last possible moment.  Duane promised to keep pushing to get the bill passed.

Outside in the Senate Parlor there was chaos. State troopers stood guard, and activists howled. Some legislators stood and consoled each other. Sen. Eric Schneiderman was visibly shaken by the bill’s defeat. Parker was also visibly distressed. He said he had been truly hopeful the bill would pass. “This would have been a triumph for all the men and women of New York State,” he said.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that she had had hope yesterday, but as the vote grew closer she became aware the bill was unlikely to pass. She declined to predict whether Albany might bring the issue to a vote again next year, an election year. “My job now is to just keep pushing,” she said.

It was expected that some Republicans might support the marriage bill, but with eight Democrats opposed, it was an amazing stretch. Some advocates are blaming the Democratic leadership for not marshaling their troops behind the bill; others are simply storming mad at the Republicans for the silent way they voted it down. Some insist Republicans were trying to prevent a Democratic victory, or a Democratic redemption of sorts of the completely dysfunctional legislative session. But for that argument to hold weight the Democrats would have actually had to marshal more support for the bill on their own side.

Sen. Neil Breslin, who voted yes for the measure, said he was upset with the outcome, but added, “There are very few votes of conscience and this was one. It would be like asking me to vote for the death penalty.”

Here is a statement from Gov. David Paterson:

“It is always darkest before the dawn. The darkest day in the history of the American civil rights movement was in 1857 when the Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott, making slavery legal north of the 36th parallel. That was the darkest day for the abolitionists. But when we look back in history, we forget that this was only five years before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862.

“I understand the anger; I understand the frustration; I understand the feeling of betrayal; and I understand the profound disappointment of those who came to Albany today thinking they could get married tomorrow. But I am also here to tell you that we are not back to square one.

“Governors don’t come to the Senate floor after losing a vote. This one does, because this is a fight that is bigger than one legislative vote. This is a civil rights issue. Marriage equality is as important as the emancipation of any group from oppression and the granting of equal rights to any community.

“I believe in my heart that if people had voted their consciences today, we would be celebrating marriage equality tonight. That did not happen. As disappointed as we are today, let’s get up tomorrow and redouble our efforts. We are going to lay the foundation to make people feel comfortable to vote their conscience and not fear political backlash.

“Now we know who we have to talk to. We are going to quash the intimidation; we are going to alleviate the pressure; we are going to move this issue back to the floor of the Senate and we are going to have marriage equality in New York State and equal rights for everybody.”

Here is a statement from Sen. Eric Schniederman:

“This is a sad day for the state of New York, and a heartbreaking defeat for equality. But this fight is far from over. Now that we know where every member of the Senate stands on the issue of marriage equality, we have our work cut out for us. We will keep fighting, keep working, and keep pushing until every New Yorker has the fundamental civil rights that come with a marriage license. The day will come soon when ALL men and women of this state will be recognized as equal, endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Justice and equality will prevail.”

Here is a statement from Sen. Liz Krueger:

“While I was pleased that the Senate finally had the decency to bring same-sex marriage legislation up for a vote today, I am extremely disappointed in the failure of so many of my colleagues to recognize the ability to marry as a basic civil right for all.  At least we now know where every Senator stands on this critical issue and I expect that a number of them will soon be hearing from some very angry constituents for denying them equal rights. I am hopeful that today was only the beginning of a process that will result in the eventual passage of a same-sex marriage bill.”

Here is a statement from Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr.:

“Setbacks are part of every human rights struggle, as we have witnessed over the course of history – for example, in the African-American civil rights and women’s suffrage movements. These setbacks, however, serve to reinvigorate and strengthen. We must be unrelenting in this struggle and campaign even harder in 2010 for same-sex marriage equality legislation. As Majority Leader and advocate of marriage equality, I believe that this is a vote of conscience and an issue of civil and human rights, not church doctrine. The New York State Legislature must again take up this issue, as well as civil and human rights issues plaguing domestic and farm workers, until equal protections – both legally and morally – are provided to all people in New York State. Civil and human rights issues will have a prominent place in our 2010 agenda, along with job creation, economic development and getting our house in fiscal order without imposing new taxes and without cutting to the core education and health care services.”

By on December 2, 2009, 6:31 pm
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