Gay Marriage Squeezes By, 33-29,
Tax Limit, Rent Bills Approved,
Sweet Corn Is State Vegetable.
Our last column, sent out late Friday afternoon, reported that the Legislature had not reached a decision on the major issues before it: rent control, property tax cap and gay marriage. The Senate also voted to name sweet corn the state vegetable. It defeated the onion by 56-6, with six downstate Democrats dissenting, including Liz Krueger.
Shortly thereafter, the dam burst and the bills involving money: extension of rent stabilization and a 2 per cent cap on property tax increases were approved overwhelmingly. Gay marriage was considered in the late evening. In the rush to make the 11 p.m. news programs and get the bill signed by Governor Cuomo before midnight, many legislators were not allowed to make statements explaining their votes, which would have been their moment in the sun.
The Gotham Gazette reported the gory details of the silencing and confinement of Senators, including Kevin Parker of Brooklyn, who is known for his fierce temper and physical confrontations with others. The story, a unique narrative of what actually happened on and off the floor, is worth reading here. Although Parker is reported to have cursed out the governor, he did not beat up anybody, although he was justifiably angry at being denied the right to explain his vote to his community, which is divided on the issue of gay marriage.
Some Legislative History
When I was first elected to the City Council in 1973, I signed on as a co-sponsor of what was called the "gay rights bill", which had been introduced in 1971 but had not even received the courtesy of a hearing by a Council committee. The bill would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation because of sexual orientation. Its opponents at the time said that passing this bill would lead to gay marriage. We responded that this was simply a civil rights bill and had nothing to do with gay marriage, which at the time was inconceivable.
Mayor Koch led the way to equality by issuing executive orders in January 1978, the first month he was in office, which prohibited the City and its agencies from discriminating in any way against gays and lesbians. But for the prohibition to apply to the much larger private sector, legislation was necessary that required City Council approval.
Despite pleas from the mayor, Council Majority Leader Thomas J. Cuite refused to allow the gay rights bill to come to the Council floor. He made his opposition, based on his intense religious belief, very clear. He is said to have gone as far as reaching the father of Councilman Thomas J. Manton of Queens (1932-2006) to implore his son not to support the bill. Manton, a former police officer and a future Congressman from Queens and Democratic county leader, yielded to his father's request. Manton was just one Councilmember, but an influential one throughout his long career.
The Roman Catholic Church was more politically powerful a generation ago than it is today in New York. Under the leadership of Francis Cardinal Spellman (1889-1967), the church wielded enormous influence in political circles. Spellman had publicly quarreled in 1956 with Eleanor Roosevelt over a movie, "Baby Doll", starring Carroll Baker, which he called 'sinful'. The fact that some clerics engaged in homosexual acts only seemed to intensify the church's opposition to any legislation in this area.
In 1985, Cuite retired. He was succeeded by Councilman Peter F. Vallone of Queens. As part of the negotiations over the leadership, in which Mayor Koch took part, Vallone promised to allow the gay rights bill to come to the Council floor for a vote, although he was personally opposed to it. He kept his word and on March 21, 1986, fifteen years after it was introduced, the bill was approved by the City Council, 21 to 14, and subsequently signed by Mayor Koch.
A Federal non-discrimination bill was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 1974 by Congresswoman Bella Abzug and Edward Koch, who served nine years in Congress before he was elected mayor in 1977, defeating Mario Cuomo in a runoff, after Mayor Abe Beame, Ms. Abzug, Percy Sutton and Herman Badillo were eliminated in the first round of voting. Thirty-four years ago, we seem to have had more distinguished candidates for mayor than the current field of aspirants. The Daily Kos reports that the anti-discrimination bill was once again introduced by Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts in March 2011. Its prospects remain dim in the national legislature.
Importance of the Event
The enormous satisfaction the gay community has demonstrated in the last two days is based on the end of what they regarded as the final legal impediment imposed by New York State to full citizenship. They called the cause "Marriage Equality". The bill was supported by many in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community who have no intentions or immediate prospects of marriage, but want the same rights that straight people take for granted.
There are ten nations which allow same-sex marriage, according to CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). They are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. Denmark and other countries, including France, are not included because they allow same-sex partnerships but not marriages. It was a surprise to see the full list; it contains countries on every continent except Asia and Australia.
The passage of this bill will not end discrimination and violence against gays. In some places homosexuality is still a crime, punishable by death by stoning. Nor would gay marriage necessarily win popular referenda today in most states. It is ironic that in a California vote gay marriage won in white communities but was defeated by black and Latino voters. Not all minorities are supportive of other minorities, but ethnicity and victimization should not be a basis for people to make decisions on what many, on each side, consider an issue of faith, morals and civil rights.
I support marriage equality, in part because I know people who love each other and should be allowed to commit themselves, and assume the protections and the burdens of marriage. In principle, capacity to reproduce should not be a requirement for couples - many people choose not to have children or are unable to do so. With 300 million Americans and millions more seeking to enter this country, there is no risk of running out of people if gays are allowed to marry.
Also, sexual preference is known to be ingrained; it is rarely a matter of voluntary choice. There was a time, until 1967 and the Loving v. Virginia case, that states could prohibit marriage between people of different races. Today, a child of such a marriage is President of the United States. Who can say that some time in the future, a President will have been born to and reared by a gay or lesbian couple?
Finally, it is somewhat gratifying to see New York State resume its historic role as a place of legislative initiative on social issues. Credit goes to Governor Cuomo and the State legislative leadership in both parties. We hope that the success in securing marriage equality will lead to further accomplishments in Albany. As you know, we have frequently been disappointed, but this year we do appear to have a functioning, intelligent and mature governor.
It can make an enormous difference, if our leaders work together and stay on track. They have shown the capacity to do so, now we look to them for performance.