Marriage Advocates At Odds On Marriage Push

In the wake of Alan Van Capelle’s resignation as executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the group’s announcement that it will not hold its annual Equality & Justice May lobbying day in Albany has angered leaders of Marriage Equality New York (MENY), the grassroots group that was the earliest fighter on the issue in the state, who feel ESPA has undercut their own plans to travel to the Capitol on February 23.

In an action alert titled “Take to the Streets with the Pride Agenda in 2010,” ESPA wrote, “Holding E&J Day this year after the December 2 vote on marriage just doesn’t make sense. Where our community really needs to be now is not in Albany on one day of the year, but on the streets in senators’ districts across the state throughout the year.”

The assumptions underlying the Pride Agenda’s decision to not organize lobbying in Albany are that the marriage bill will not come back up for a vote until after the November elections and that the two other top legislative priorities — the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and the anti-bullying Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) — have won approval by the State Assembly and “we’ve already built the support we need to pass” them in the Senate.

The ESPA release did not address the fact that both it and the marriage equality bill’s chief sponsor, out gay Chelsea Senator Thomas K. Duane, repeatedly expressed confidence last year that it enjoyed enough support for passage of that measure

ESPA explained its shift in focus for 2010: “The State Senate has grown accustomed to seeing us in Albany. What they don’t expect is to see us at shopping centers, transportation hubs, Labor Day picnics, and walking door-to-door in their districts talking to their constituents about our lives. This strategy is in your face. It’s grassroots organizing at its best.”

That explanation, however, did little to mollify the grassroots MENY, which is planning its own Marriage Education Day in Albany on February 23. In a February 1 email to Desma Holcomb, a program officer at ESPA, Cathy Marino-Thomas, MENY’s board chair and communications director, noted that her group had asked the Pride Agenda for support on its Albany venture, and then wrote, “In no way did you indicate that your organization would, the very next day, send a note that basically attempted to derail our plans to visit Albany by telling all readers that Albany visits were unnecessary. I was disappointed. I was disappointed because, once again, ESPA decides to play the game alone instead of supporting another organizations’ efforts. Unfortunate. I would have, at the very least, appreciated a ‘heads up.’”

Marino-Thomas also pointed out that many of the volunteers at ESPA also participate in MENY’s effort. “These folks need us all to work together to bring the change and equality we are all seeking,” she wrote. “I hope that, in the future, our organizations can do a better job of supporting each other instead of sending negative messaging out to our community. That is for our opponents.”

The Pride Agenda did not respond to a phone call requesting comment on its Albany decision and its disagreement with MENY.