Will gay marriage survive state legislature?: Politics for the Upstate Student

Posted by Julia Grigel

Is 2011 the year for gay marriage in New York state? Governor Andrew Cuomo recently restated his commitment to see same-sex marriage legislation passed this year. But the chances of the bill succeeding are slim, since it will depend largely upon the decision of the Republican-controlled State Senate.

To clear things up, New York state legislature is simple: it's basically like the U.S. Congress. There are two houses: the Assembly and the Senate. Bills often die in one of the two houses. It is tiresome and frustrating, but, as Cuomo has said, when it functions well, it can be "beautiful."

But the beauty in this struggle has been hard to find. It's mostly been maddening. New Yorkers have been close to winning the marriage equality battle for almost five years. Since June 2007, a same-sex marriage bill has passed in the State Assembly three times, each time by a wide margin. But each time the Senate has rejected it, even back in 2009, when the Democrats had the majority. In the November 2010 elections, the Republicans won back the majority, and there was little turnover in Democratic senators.

The most important question is this: will some senators change their minds? It seems obvious that a senator who once voted "no" on an issue-based bill such as this one would probably vote "no" again. However, several factors might come into play this year to change the minds of senators who once opposed same-sex marriage.

The most important factor is the voice of the people, that strange concept upon which our democracy purports to stand. A recent Quinnipiac University poll indicated that New Yorkers support gay marriage by the highest margin ever recorded: 56-37. This is a complete reversal from 2004, when New Yorkers opposed gay marriage by 55 - 37.

The public's readiness to see a marriage equality bill might persuade some senators who were on the line in 2009. Also, increased pressure coming from Andrew Cuomo, as well as U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who sent personal letters to each State lawmaker earlier this month, might push some senators over the edge.

What would be crucial this time around is that a strong majority of the senate Democrats shows support in order to convince hesitant Republicans that casting a "yes" vote might be worth breaking party loyalties. Who knows how many Republicans voted "no" against their principles while under pressure from their peers last time? Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has stated that, although he will personally oppose a gay-marriage bill, he will allow fellow Republican senators to vote according to their "conscience."

Despite signs that the public is more accepting of same-sex marriage than before, and despite the strong leadership of Cuomo and Gillibrand, the odds still look slim. Knowing what the New York state Senate is capable (or, rather, incapable) of, I'm not convinced that this year will bring anything new on the gay rights front.

Emotions run high when politics step into the realm of the family. In the summer of 2009, my oldest sister got married. This summer, my other sister will get married. And yet our parents remain unmarried because they are both women. I hope that by next summer we will be able to celebrate another marriage — this time, between two women in their 50s.

Of course people on both sides of the debate are angry. But frankly, I fail to understand why a third party would care about a marriage between two people of the same sex. It is, however, entirely understandable why people get angry about being denied a fundamental right.

Recent events in the Middle East have reminded us how lucky we are to have one of the basic rights we too often take for granted: freedom of speech. And in our democracy, we have the opportunity to use this right to demand additional rights. Gay rights advocacy groups tirelessly lobby in Albany, and will only continue to pressure their opponents as the debate heats up this year. And remember, we may always contact State senators by phone to voice our opinions—yes, they actually do take note of what you say!

The civil rights movement didn't end in the ‘60s; it is ongoing, and in a nation where 45 out of 50 states discriminate based on sexual orientation, it is far from over. In the words of State Senator Tom Duane, "There's sort of a paradox about this. The time is never right for civil rights. The economy, wars, etc. The troubles we've had here in the Senate. It's never ever the right time. But the paradox is that it's always the time to be on the right side of history." Duane has vowed to introduce a gay marriage bill this session. Whether the Senate will be "on the right side of history" remains to be seen.

Julia Grigel is a senior government major who enjoys politics, especially when they're reactionary and/ or German.

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