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Gay Marriage Fails in NY: What Went Wrong in the Empire State?

By L. K. Regan

Fifty-one percent of New Yorkers favor gay marriage. So why did the state Senate vote down a gay marriage law this week? And what is the next step?

New York's governor, David Paterson, supports same-sex marriage, and the gay marriage bill had already safely passed the state Assembly. All that was needed was a simple majority in the 62-member Senate. But the vote that activists hoped would be won in a squeaker wound up not very close after all. Gay marriage went down 38 to 24. Where did things go wrong?

Governor Paterson clearly feels promises were broken. "It’s very disappointing," he told Gay City News, "It’s very disheartening. Certainly the promises that were made would have made it a much closer vote, if not a successful vote." Likewise, Kevin Parker, a Senator from Brooklyn, accused colleagues of reneging on promises: "I’m profoundly disappointed and sad about the outcome, partly because many of us were given assurances that we had support from colleagues on both sides of the aisle who said they would vote for this today and did not,” he said. “I think this is the worst case of political cowardice that I’ve ever seen.” The betrayals came not only from Republicans, who failed to join an anticipated bi-partisan coalition, but from Democrats who defected once it became clear that the votes would not be materializing.

One factor of the vote attracting a fair amount of attention is the absence of substantive floor debate. Only one of the "no" votes spoke against the bill, with the others choosing to stay silent. For Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, this is a sign of where the votes were lost, and where the next steps need to lead. "This vote was not about religion, it was not about morality,” he said. “For a lot of people, especially those who were silent during the debate, it was all about politics. We need to play that political game smarter and more strategically, and we’re getting there, but there is still a long way to go.” Said Senator Tom Duane, the chamber's only gay member, and the lead proponent of the bill, "There's never a good time for civil rights. There's never, ever, ever, ever a good time for civil rights. I know. I get that." But, he went on, "the paradox is, it's always the time to be on the right side of history."

Now eyes turn to New Jersey, and to whether the Garden State will be getting on the right side of history. A successful bill in New York would have given us a second state to legalize gay marriage without a court mandate. Beginning next week, New Jersey will have a try, if the legislature can pass a bill before the end of the term of the current governor, John Corzine, who is pro-gay marriage. Corzine leaves office in January, however, and the next governor, Chris Christie, is opposed to gay marriage. Next Thursday, the New Jersey Senate will have the chance to get in a gay marriage vote under the wire. If they fail on the heels of the New York loss, it will be a grave disappointment.