One year ago today, we had the chance to travel to Albany for our first and only day of reporting there.
As days of political reporting go, it did not disappoint. On arrival, the halls were filled with passionate protesters: those demanding that gay and lesbian people not be allowed to “sully” the tradition of marriage, and those demanding marriage equality. At times, both were using religious chants to drown each other out, their singing voices ringing off the marble capitol building’s hall and echoing far away.
Over the long hours of the day, rumors abounded that there were more than the two declared Republican state senators to vote for the Marriage Equality Act. At least one was needed for it to pass.
Finally, we got word that a bill was being printed, even though we didn’t know if the votes were there for it to pass. As press, we could be on the floor with the Senators, in the South gallery (with the Human Rights Campaign’s paid seat fillers) or in the North gallery (with activists who’d gotten arrested demanding marriage equality, often to the chagrin of Gay Inc., like Ben Strothmann/Honey LaBronx, Natasha Dillon and Jake Goodman).
We chose to sit in the North gallery.
Coincidentally, we sat behind this little boy, who was remarkably calm as he listened to Senators orate about whether his dad was going to have equal rights before New York law or not:
And we sat right over the head of Senator Ruben Diaz, whom we’d spent the past couple of months profiling and who was the subject of the current feature of last year’s Village Voice Pride Issue. He bloviated incoherently and was one of the last formal voices to defend a separate and unequal state of New York law for gay and straight citizens before the vote came to the floor. Carl Krueger, the recently outed gay state senator who had once voted against marriage equality (and who has now left the senate and plead guilty to federal corruption charges) gave the final democratic speech in support of the Marriage Equality Act.
But the real turning point of the night was when Republican Stephen Saland, who had been publicly undecided for weeks, spoke and announced, with no one knowing what he was going to say, that his vote would be for marriage equality.
And then, it happened: the vote was taken and the bill passed. Down the row from us, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage put his head in his hands and wept. But it was hard to pay too much attention to that, as the chamber was erupting in cheers, laughter, tears, hugs, and the unexpected chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
Governor Cuomo came out and took a victory lap on the Senate floor. We scrambled to the press room to see him give remarks, extracting ourselves from people we’d covered for years who’d given everything they had to making that moment a reality.
Right before the governor signed the bill, we spoke with James Alesi, one of the four Republican Senators, who explained to us why he was so happy to have voted yes:
I am 63 years old, and I have no children, so I won’t have any grandchildren. But I do have family. I have nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews. I don’t know what they’ll think. But I do know that as a result of the collective efforts here, they’ll grow up in a world that has a broader vision of human freedom.
Right after that, the governor signed the Marriage Equality Act into law, setting it to take effect one month later.
A year later, much has changed in the battle for gay marriage and gay rights. “Gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” has largely just become part of marriage in New York State. Speaker Quinn didn’t get lesbian married — she just got hitched like any other bride. President Obama is now onboard for marriage, a position he awkwardly hadn’t taken on this date last year (nor while he was hauling cash in NYC the night before). Governor’s Cuomo’s control and discipline with the legislative process, lauded for the freshman governor last year during the fight for marriage, is now met with far more skepticism, especially by the left. Senator Alesi is not running for re-election (more due to an unfortunate incident of him unwisely suing a constituent rather than anything to do with gay marriage). The marriage debate has been settled in New York and is moving nationally, with even one-time opponents to equality changing their mind.
But on June 24, 2011, it was a perfect day for this reporter to watch, after covering the fight for equality for years, as the state finally made it so that legally, in terms of civil marriage under New York State law, LGBT New Yorkers were equal citizens.
On behalf of everyone here at the Village Voice (especially those of us marching in the parade), we thank all the sources who have shared their stories about LGBT rights, all the readers who have read those tales, and wish all of you a great day today.