It Can Happen Here

Is New York's Marriage Law Gender Neutral? The City Council Speaker Says Yes. The Mayor Says No. It's Time for the Rest of us to March.


City politics is always a bizarre balancing act, but this stunt makes Philippe Petit's high-wire walk between the Twin Towers look easy. Every major player has a lot to gain and lose from taking a stand.

Giff Miller is a longtime supporter of gay-marriage rights, and unlike many politicians who embraced this issue when it looked like pie in the sky, he still talks the talk. But Miller's principles happen to jibe with his mayoral ambitions. Stepping out front will enable him to mine the gay community's major political resource: its willingness to give generously, and in a co- ordinated way, to sympathetic candidates. On the other hand, Miller is seen as a creature of Manhattan, and he can ill afford to narrow that image further to Chelsea and Greenwich Village. This may be the reason why, though he's willing to make a personal statement on the steps of City Hall, Miller is reluctant to put his council on the legislative line. One advocate who met with the Speaker more than a year ago says he favored an "incremental" approach at the time.

New Paltz mayor—and possible marriage perp—Jason West.
photo: Cary Conover
New Paltz mayor—and possible marriage perp—Jason West.

Then there's Bloomberg, whose image in the outer boroughs is the political equivalent of the Gowanus Canal. He can't afford to burn his bridges and tunnels further by front-ing for the gay community. No wonder Bloomberg has declared his intention to veto the domestic-partner benefits bill when it finally passes the City Council. He'll have a hard time welcoming the Republican Convention to New York if wedding bells ring in its sodomitic precincts. Still, Bloomberg doesn't want to alienate the gay constituency that voted for him in 2001. The result is an open-minded attitude toward gay marriage coupled with a closed-door policy.

Even Victor Robles is in a tricky spot. He can't guess who the City Council Speaker will be when his tenure comes up for renewal in 2007. Then, too, if he sticks his neck out, some reporter might revisit the 1996 Daily News report of a sexual-harassment complaint against Robles made by a male employee. (The allegation was investigated but didn't lead to legal action.) No wonder Robles's former colleagues on the council want to shield him. No wonder he wants the mayor to take the heat.

Between their vulnerability and their ambition, New York politicians are a calculating lot, and that goes for out-and-proud pols as well. Fealty to the leadership can prevent them from pushing as hard as one might like. In the state assembly, Deborah Glick is close to Speaker Silver. Neither she nor her colleague Danny O'Donnell (Rosie's brother) have made waves about gay marriage. (In fact, Glick has suggested that the courts are the proper place for this issue to be resolved.) Senator Tom Duane is much freer to act, since he's not part of the ruling Republican leadership in that chamber, and Duane is planning to hold a forum on gay marriage on March 3. In the City Council, Christine Quinn is a key Miller lieutenant, and his enthusiasm for this issue enables her to be quite active. (The other queer council members, Margarita Lopez and Phil Reed, haven't ducked the issue, but they aren't as well positioned as Quinn.) In return, she is quick to cover for Miller's shortcomings.

Of course, loyalty begets political power—and goodies for gay constituents. But it doesn't necessarily move the agenda.

As for the marriage-advocacy groups, they haven't always worked together. Empire State Pride Agenda, which was instrumental in getting George Pataki to endorse the state gay-rights bill—and remains tight with the governor—has operated independently and some claim defiantly. Sources say ESPA urged some council members not to attend the Sunday press conference with Miller, and the group is holding its own pro-marriage rally days after the planned demonstrations. Calls to ESPA went unanswered.

The fact that the gay community has no mechanism for overseeing its organizations results in clashing between the suits and the streets. Connie Ress of Marriage Equality U.S.A. has taken pains to harness the energy of militants, but many leaders on this issue seem overly concerned about the prospect of agitation. They want middle-class couples with strollers to converge on the marriage bureau; not a ragtag legion shouting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, homophobia's got to go!"

To judge from the hundreds who attended an organizing meeting at the city's lesbian and gay center last Friday night, there's more order and less factionalism around this issue than is usually the case. Even some critics of marriage as an institution are willing to fight for that right—and the rest are staying out of sight. Marching on the halls of power has never failed this community. Let's not shrink from it now.


Demonstrators will assemble at City Hall on Thursday at 8 a.m. For further information about joining the protest, visit: nymarriagenow.org

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