Gov. David Paterson came out of the gate energized this morning and passionately made the case that legislation to legalize gay marriage in New York is not a matter of political timing but of civil rights.
“What we have is not a crisis of issues; we have a crisis of leadership,” Paterson said. “We’re going to fill that vacuum today. I’m introducing a bill to bring marriage equality to the state of New York.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood by Paterson’s side during the announcement to demonstrate his support for the bill.
“When it comes to recognizing civil rights, New York state has always been a leader,” Bloomberg said, citing the fight for women’s suffrage, immigration rights and equal rights for African Americans. “In keeping with that proud tradition, I believe New York should become the next state to allow same-sex marriages.”
It won't be an easy road, however. Just yesterday, newly installed Archbishop Timothy Dolan pledged to fight Paterson's bill for gay marriage in the state. Dolan made his intentions clear at his first press conference when asked about the issue.
"The topic you raise -- other topics that are controversial, that the church has a message to give -- yeah, you'll find that I don't shy away from those things and I wouldn't sidestep them," Dolan said.
Just hours after Paterson's announcement, State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., a conservative Democrat and Pentecostal minister in the Bronx, said he was starting to plan a large rally to oppose the meausure.
About 100 people attended Sen. Diaz's church, the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, to discuss plans to protest, The New York Times reported. Diaz has also sent a letter to Archbishop Dolan to ask for a meeting.
Paterson said he believes the gay marriage bill is necessary because gays and lesbians in civil unions are denied 1,200 to 1,350 civil protections such as health care and pension rights that straight couples can enjoy through marriage.
“This is a civil rights issue. For too long, gay and lesbian New Yorkers, we have pretended that they have the same rights as their neighbors and their friends,” Paterson continued. “That is not the case. Too many cannot even make medical decisions on the prospect of the care for their partners, nor can they visit them in the hospital.”
New York City Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell (D), brother of Rosie O'Donnell, has campaigned for gay marriage for years as an openly gay elected official. O'Donnell spoke emotionally during the press conference on why he and every other gay New Yorker are entitled to the thousands of benefits afforded to married couples.
"I was born in this state. I was educated in this state. I am an elected official. I pay taxes in this state. I want a piece of paper from my government just like the rest of you," O'Donnell said. "It's about time that we actually talk about what this is and isn't. "
“I don’t think the government should be in the business of telling us who we can or can’t marry,” Bloomberg added. ““Different religions have different ideas about what constitutes a marriage. And each of us may have our own personal beliefs on what marriage means. These can be strongly-held convictions – and we’re not asking anyone to change them or to behave in a way that’s inconsistent with them."
Paterson announced the gay marriage bill Thursday morning during a press conference in New York City. The move reflects his desire to press the gay-marriage issue with lawmakers in Albany as other states move ahead with efforts to grant more civil rights to homosexuals. Last week, Vermont became the fourth state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
“We have all known the pain and the insult of hatred. This is why we are standing here today,” Paterson said. “We stand to tell the world that we want equality for everyone. We stand to tell the world that we want marriage equality for New York state.”
Paterson said the State Legislature should debate the legislation even if it doesn’t have enough support to become law. A similar bill in 2007 passed a vote in the State Assembly but then stalled. The Senate never acted on the bill.
Even with a slim Democratic majority in the Senate, Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who supports the move, is also quick to point out that it still doesn’t have enough support to pass. But Paterson doesn’t care.
“Rights should not be stifled by fear. Silence should not be a response to injustice. If we take no action we will surely lose; maybe we’ve already lost,” he said. “There is no gain without struggle and there is no corner of this country or region of the world that tirelessly has not been struggling to bring freedom to those who don’t have it.”
Legislators shouldn’t only bring up bills they think are going to pass, Bloomberg said. “That is not democracy. "We have to have a debate, we have to have a vote," he added. "We have to force people, particularly state officials, to stand up and say explicitly on the record where they stand. That's what democracy is all about."
Paterson has maintained that legalizing gay marriage in New York is one of the top goals of his administration. As the governor faces dismal approval numbers amid the financial crisis, some analysts and opponents see the move’s timing as political. “For Paterson, it is a chance for a famous and symbolic high-profile success," according to Spin Cycle, Newsday’s political blog. "Arguing for rights for a minority that traditionally did not "fit in" can only play to Paterson's strength.”
Four states - Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont - permit gay marriage. Paterson used the success of those states as proof New York could be effective.