VOLUME 3, ISSUE 344 | October 28 – November 3, 2004
Schumer’s “Gut”: No Marriage
Week before easy re-election bid, senator meets with gay leaders
On the eve of his virtually assured re-election, New York’s senior U.S. senator, Charles Schumer, told a closed meeting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Democratic clubs and leaders Tuesday morning at the LGBT Community Center that his opposition to same-sex marriage is “in his gut.”
While Schumer was well received by the Democrats for his work against conservative Bush appointments to the federal judiciary and the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), Corey Johnson, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID) who was in attendance, said, “It is appalling for him to come to our home and not believe that we should have what he and Iris [Weinshall, his wife] have” in terms of rights.
Just last week, Schumer said in a WABC-TV debate with two of his opponents, “I think every church, synagogue, mosque, and other religious institution should not be forced by the state to decide who should be married. And so I voted for DOMA [in 1996], called the Defense of Marriage Act, which said that one state didn’t have to recognize another state[’s legal same-sex marriages].”
While no one in the meeting questioned Schumer about his assertion that religions would be forced to perform same-sex marriages if they were legal, veteran gay activist Allen Roskoff was said by Johnson to have told the senator that “his support for DOMA was ‘despicable’ and his arguments against the FMA should be less on legal grounds and more on human and civil rights grounds.” Roskoff also reportedly said he “felt humiliated and embarrassed by Schumer when he bragged about his vote on DOMA on TV.”
“I’d admire your perseverance and dedication to civil rights, Allen, but you’ve always been a burr under my saddle,” Schumer reportedly said. Roskoff replied, “And I will continue to be a burr until you become a progressive.”
Because the meeting was off-the-record, several officials in attendance, such as Sen. Tom Duane, had no comment on it.
Emily Giske, vice-chair of the New York State Democratic Party and a longtime Schumer supporter, thought it was “a great meeting.” She said, “The LGBT community was a big part of his victory six years ago and he is appreciative of that. In terms of the LGBT agenda that is on the table in Congress now, he is at the forefront.”
Schumer received an 88 rating from the Human Rights Campaign this month as did Hillary Rodham Clinton, the state’s junior senator, each getting marked down for their failure to sponsor the Permanent Partners Immigration Act that would allow foreign same-sex partners of American citizens to emigrate here. Johnson approached Schumer about that after the meeting and the senator told him he supported the bill and would look into sponsoring it.
Despite his opposition to same-sex marriage, Schumer said in the televised debate, “I believe we should have civil unions,” the same position articulated by his Republican opponent, upstate Assemblyman Howard Mills.
The meeting was organized by Gary Parker of the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, bringing together LID with GLID, the Stonewall Democrats, the Out People of Color Political Action Club (Out POC PAC), Guillermo Vasquez Democratic Club in Queens, Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, Staten Island Stonewall, and Lambda Democrats of the Bronx. That coalition has worked together since June in “a more formalized structure” to work collectively, and had pressed Schumer for an open town-hall style meeting at the Center, but were told his schedule didn’t permit it.
“The ultimate goal is for there to be more open communication between him and the community where the public is invited,” Parker said.
The coalition is seeking a meeting with Clinton, who also does not support marriage rights for same-sex couples. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who does support same-sex marriage, is scheduled to get together with the coalition and community members on the evening of November 18 at the gay nightclub Therapy. Schumer and Spitzer are both said to be strongly considering a run for governor in 2006, the senator apparently waiting to see whether the Democrats can regain the majority in the U.S. Senate.
Andres Duque, of the Vasquez club and Out POC PAC, said, “I didn’t think tough questions would be asked and they were about Schumer’s support for the Patriot Act, immigration issues, and same-sex marriage.”
Brad Hoylman, president of GLID, said of Schumer, “On the federal level, he is invaluable. Marriage is a vital issue, but so are the federal judiciary and a women’s right to choose and he has taken the lead on those, as well as quashing the FMA. Spitzer and [state Comptroller Alan] Hevesi have raised the bar on marriage and the challenge is to get other officials to meet that.”
Hoylman praised Schumer for putting an out lesbian, Barbara Kavanagh, of Buffalo, on his federal judicial screening panel “within a week” after the lack of an LGBT person on the panel being brought to his attention this summer. The issue of out gay Senate staff was raised in the meeting and Schumer said he had none to his knowledge.
Larry Moss, a Democratic state committeeman, said that despite Schumer’s leadership on the issue of judges and the FMA, “it is well known that he does not support same-sex marriage rights and we must continue to move toward doing so.”
The clubs that have endorsed in the Senate race have come out for Schumer, but several, such as Stonewall Democrats, the Vasquez club, and OutPOCPAC, did not make an endorsement. Schumer received enthusiastic support from gay clubs in 1998 in defeating Republican Sen. Al D’Amato.