11th Hour Rally Against Marriage Equality

At New York's City Hall, leading opponents offer questionable vote count

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | A lobbyist for New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, the group leading the opposition to same-sex marriage in New York, said 30 state senators have promised to vote no on that legislation and another two are strongly leaning toward a no vote.

“Thirty are positive and we have two that are 95 percent with us,” said Reverend Duane R. Motley, a senior lobbyist at the conservative group.

Motley commented following a June 14 press conference on the steps of New York’s City Hall that was organized by the City Action Coalition International, a group of religious organizations.

By the time of the press conference, 29 Democrats and one Republican had already committed to supporting legislation enacting gay marriage in New York. Republicans control the 62-member State Senate with a slim 32 to 30 majority.

In putting forward his count, Motley said he had 30 sure Republican no votes, though it is likely that he mistakenly counted Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat and ardent gay marriage opponent, as one of those 30. He did not respond to an email seeking clarification.

Motley said that Roy J. McDonald, who represents Troy, and Greg Ball, who represents Brewster, were the two Republicans who were likely no votes. “I pretty much feel they are going to come our way,” he said.

In fact, just hours later, McDonald announced to reporters in Albany that he planned to vote yes.

Gay marriage legislation has passed the Democrat-dominated State Assembly by wide margins three times since 2007. It had a single floor debate and vote in the State Senate, in 2009, when it lost in a 38 to 24 vote. Eight Democrats joined 30 Republicans in that 2009 vote.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has made passing the legislation a priority and has been pressing state senators for their support. A coalition of gay groups, New Yorkers United for Marriage, has been aggressively lobbying state senators to the point that two Democrats who voted no in 2009, Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. and Shirley Huntley, both of Queens, said on June 13 that opinions in their districts have shifted from heavily opposed in 2009 to largely in support now.

Another three former no votes –– Democrat Carl Kruger of Brooklyn and Republicans James Alesi of Rochester and McDonald –– have also flipped so far.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has lobbied state senators to win votes for gay marriage and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the marriage coalition.

The City Hall press conference brought together religious and civic leaders from across the city who wanted to counter the pro-gay marriage messages from Bloomberg and Cuomo.

“We’re just trying to protect what has been normal for thousands of years,” said Reverend Joseph Mattera, the senior pastor at Brooklyn’s Resurrection Church and the leader of a coalition of evangelical churches in the New York City area. “We are doing this for the sake of our children… We believe that the mayor and the governor are making a huge mistake.”

Also speaking were Chuck Stetson, a founder and managing director at PEI Funds, an investment firm, and a longtime opponent of gay marriage, and Brian Raum, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative law firm. City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a Democrat who represents part of the Bronx, attended part of the press conference, but did not speak.

The event also drew support from Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in Maryland. Jackson has emerged as the leading African-American voice opposing gay marriage.

“What we have today is a group of people trying to hitchhike on or highjack or take the legacy of the real civil rights movement and make it their own,” Jackson said. “Most African Americans are incensed by this; thus we find in every state a huge majority of African-American voters have voted against same-sex marriage.”

Motley told the assembled crowd –– who Mattera said represented thousands of churches –– that they must quickly contact their state senators and assemblymembers to urge them to oppose gay marriage. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 20, but could leave Albany as early as June 17.

“All we have to do is hold off the governor and his forces through Friday,” Motley told the crowd. “Keep burning up those phone lines.”

Responding to reporters, Motley conceded that the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage in New York was not as pronounced as that in other states.

“I would like to have seen a stronger full-court press,” he said. “I think they’re complacent.”

While the religious conservatives held their event on the City Hall steps, a group of counter-protesters assembled within sight and earshot in City Hall Park. They sang and chanted throughout the press conference.

“We organized today’s protest so we could get the message out that there are religious leaders who support marriage equality,” said Louis Flores, a member of Connecting Rainbows, the group that organized the event.