Bloomberg Says Time “Right” to Move Marriage Bill

In his most specific articulation of what he is prepared to do to help make marriage equality a reality in New York State, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg “promise[d] to go with Christine Quinn up to Albany and to testify and to do whatever it takes to keep the pressure on.”

The mayor made his remarks at a gala dinner March 25 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown hosted by the LGBT Community Center to honor Richard Burns, who recently stepped down as its executive director after more than 22 years at the helm.

The mayor has pledged to lobby Albany on a gay marriage bill for at least the past four years. In 2005, when asked by Gay City News how strong his commitment to getting a law passed was, Bloomberg responded, “I will go and testify the way I said I would. You don't know very much about me. When I say I'll do something, I'll do something.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg offered his most specific articulation of how he will fight for marriage equality.

The mayor has not, however, played a significant role in the Albany debate so far. The State Assembly, overwhelmingly Democratic, passed the marriage measure in 2007 by an 85-61 margin. What influence he had, if any, in helping deliver votes, either among city Democrats or the four upstate Republicans who joined the winning majority, is unknown, but there were no public hearings, with the issue debated openly in the Assembly only when the bill was on the floor.

During the 2007-2008 legislative session, the Senate was led by the Republicans, whose two leaders, Joseph Bruno and later Dean Skelos, were adamant in their opposition to marriage equality, Bloomberg's advocacy notwithstanding.

This year, the Democrats hold a narrow 32-30 majority in the Senate, but with some in their ranks, particularly Bronx Senator Ruben Diaz, a fiery Pentecostal minister, opposed, marriage equality advocates know they need some Republican votes to carry the day.

State campaign finance records show that the mayor supported the state Republican Party to the tune of just under $1 million in 2007-2008, with the bulk of that money going to the State Senate Republican Campaign Committee. Given these donations and the strong likelihood that Bloomberg will have the Republican line in his November reelection bid, advocates will no doubt look to him to lobby targeted GOP senators.

(This reporter was misquoted on this point in the print edition of one of the city's dailies on March 26, though that was soon corrected on the online edition).

Acknowledging that, with the change in party control, marriage equality has the chance of coming to the Senate floor, the mayor, said, “We now stand closer than we ever have before to a dream that I think we all share — a law guaranteeing marriage equality.”

He added, “The tide is turning. Support is mounting. It's still not going to be easy. There are people who don't agree.”

“I think it's time for Albany to set politics aside and do the right thing,” Bloomberg concluded, perhaps wrapping into his marriage advocacy a shot at legislative leaders for their failure to date to avert a pending significant subway fare hike.

The mayor disappointed many in the community in early 2005 when he mounted an appeal to a Manhattan Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. That appeal led to a ruling at the state's highest court in July 2006 finding no right to marriage for same-sex couples in the New York Constitution.

Bloomberg first announced his support for marriage equality at the time the appeal was filed, and since that time reiterated his stand on numerous occasions. In fact, regarding the outcome of the city's appeal of the favorable marriage ruling, he told Gay City News in 2005, “My hope is that the court will say that it is legal under the Constitution.”

The mayor took note of US Senator Charles Schumer's statement earlier in the week throwing his support behind marriage equality, and said the Democrat had told him, “You know, it was time.”

Bloomberg also stated that the city's Board of Health has voted unanimously to allow married lesbians to put both of their names on their infant child's birth certificate when it is first issued. Last May, Governor David Paterson directed all state agencies to conform their practices to a statewide court precedent that found New York must accord recognition to legal marriages by same-sex couples in other jurisdictions, such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Canada.

State health authorities had already acted on the birth certificate issue, but New York City, unlike the rest of the state, administers its own health records system.

Christine Quinn, the out lesbian speaker of the City Council, ushered Bloomberg through the dinner crowd of roughly 400 when they arrived. Many pundits have suggested that Quinn might throw her support behind the mayor in the coming campaign rather than endorse a fellow Democrat. But after Michael Urie, the “Ugly Betty” star who was the evening's emcee, voiced support for Bloomberg serving as “mayor for life,” the speaker jokingly insisted there were limits to how long she was willing to see him in Gracie Mansion.

“By the way, I don't want the mayor to be mayor for life,” Quinn said, when she followed Bloomberg on the podium.