In 2009, New York State Senator James Alesi voted against the same-sex marriage bill. Two years later, Alesi, along with three other Republicans, voted “yes” on the Marriage Equality Act, sparking many to wonder what made him change his mind. A day after that vote, Alesi told our own Steven Thrasher, “It’s not our job to be moral, it’s our job to be functional as a legislature.” At a recent New York Times panel about the bill, Alesi said that he had originally wanted to vote “yes” in 2009, but resisted due to “politics.”
Alesi told the panel that he knew the bill wouldn’t pass in 2009, even if he or five other like-minded Republicans voted “yes.” They resisted voting for what they believed in because they “knew that it would be used against us in the next election, and again you don’t take a bad vote on a bill that’s not going to pass.”
I hate to say that, I really hate to say that, but that is the truth, whether it’s marriage equality or it’s a budget bill, so I made sure that my conference knew that I was going to cast the first vote, and I knew there were a half-dozen others that wanted to vote “yes” on it.
What was at stake there, and again this is a political statement, but you have to tell the truth about this because we’re talking about real history — was that the Republican conference was trying to do everything it could to get back in the majority, which as everyone knows is what happened.
I said in my conference, “I’m going to vote ‘no’ for the sake of this conference, but if anybody in this conference votes ‘yes’ then I will leave, I will quit the Senate.”
I went out, and as I sat there I knew I was voting against what I believed. I knew I was voting against what was in my heart. I knew I was voting against what I thought was right not just for me, not only for New York, but for America.
It was very, very hard for me.
James Alesi famously held his head in his hands after making that vote in 2009. Two years later, he was able to make up for his original decision. He was the first Republican to vote “yes” on the Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and, by his own evaluation, did the right thing. He admitted his wrongdoing on record, which, besides being difficult, is moral.
Although it may not be their job to be “moral,” as Alesi told Steven Thrasher, it is a legislative body’s job to be “functional.” Can a legislature be deemed “functional” if it is made up of people who vote against what they believe in?
That answer depends on whether or not there’s an election coming up.