Amidst the only major rain showers to mar LGBT Pride Sunday, the Empire State Pride Agenda convened a press conference at 56th Street and Sixth Avenue at 11:30, a half-hour before the Parade’s step-off, to announce its endorsement of Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic attorney general since 1999, for governor.
At that event, Spitzer indicated his belief that the ruling from the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, on four same-sex marriage cases argued in Albany on May 31 would come this week. Thursday, the morning after this newspaper goes to press, is the time this week when the court is announcing decisions, though there has been no confirmation that the marriage ruling will be among them. Spitzer, a supporter of same-sex marriage rights since his AG race in 1998, nonetheless represented the state’s position against the gay and lesbian plaintiffs in the cases before the high court.
“Eliot Spitzer wasted no time in 1999 in reinstating a nondiscrimination policy after his predecessor Dennis Vacco removed it from the office,” Alan Van Capelle said in announcing the endorsement, made simultaneously with one for David Paterson, the state Senate minority leader who is Spitzer’s running mate. “He made sure that everyone knew that you could not work in the attorney general’s office and perpetrate homophobic discrimination of any type. When we passed the hate crimes law [in 2000] which Eliot was enormously supportive of, the attorney general and his office wrote a manual and shipped it to every district attorney in New York State so that they knew how to prosecute and enforce that hate crimes law.”
Spitzer faces Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi in the Democratic primary on September 12. The winner of that contest faces Republican-Conservative Party nominee John Faso, a former upstate assemblyman. Spitzer has a campaign war chest approaching $20 million and has enjoyed huge margins over both Suozzi and Faso in all polls conducted to date.
Van Capelle noted that Paterson has supported the LGBT community “every step of the way,” in successful efforts on the hate crimes bill, the 2002 gay rights law, and social service funding, and in ongoing battles to pass gender identity and expression nondiscrimination legislation and a school anti-bullying measure.
“David and I understand that the march for civil rights never stops, it continues,” Spitzer said in accepting the Pride Agenda endorsement. “The progress we have seen in this state over the past several years has been too marginal and too incremental. There are still major strides to take in the context of marriage, ensuring there’s no discrimination, ensuring that state law embodies the values and principals that we as New Yorkers believe the state has always stood for.”
The attorney general acknowledged that his defense of the state in the lawsuits pending before the Court of Appeals might be seen as contradicting his longstanding support for equal marriage rights, but reiterated his argument that his constitutional obligations require him to represent the governor’s position.
“Even though everybody here knows that as attorney general I’ve needed to be involved in litigations that do not always reflect my personal views,” he said, “I have since day one been unhesitating in saying with enormous clarity , with conviction, with fervor same sex marriage should be the law of this state and we will make it the law of this state.”
When asked what he thought the likely outcome of the Court of Appeals deliberations will be, Spitzer replied, “Predicting the outcome of the decision is something I will not try to do. I’ll wait until we read it, I presume this week.”
Asked to detail what conversations he has had with legislative leaders—Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno—about moving a marriage bill through Albany next year, Spitzer said, “Look, I don’t think we’re going to get into conversations we’ve had now about the tactics for how we will succeed in this battle. What we have been very clear about is that this is something we believe in deeply, something that we will make the law of the State of New York. We will pursue all the appropriate and legitimate mechanisms to do that. Conversations that we’ve had with either Shelly or Joe don’t, shouldn’t be revealed. Those are private conversations.”
In comments after the press conference, however, Paterson, a same-sex marriage supporter since his unsuccessful 1993 run for city public advocate, told Gay City News, “I’ll handicap the Senate. The Senate is handicapped.” In fact, longstanding Republican control of the Senate has delayed and in some cases blocked significant items on the LGBT community political agenda.
Asked if he and Spitzer were ahead of the Democratic caucuses in the Legislature on the marriage issue, Paterson replied, “Absolutely.” Then, referring to all minority communities seeking recognition, he added, “Everyone ignores them until there’s some kind of breakthrough. Then everyone shows up at the rallies… Yes, I think we’re leading on the issue.”
The Assembly, with an overwhelming Democratic majority, has yet to give consideration to Manhattan Democrat Dick Gottfried’s gay marriage bill.
Paterson also demonstrated his skill at witty verbal jousting during the press conference. To considerable laughter, Van Capelle said, “They say it’s good luck when it rains on a wedding day, and I have to say that today our community is wedding Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson together and creating a marriage because our hopes for equality are joined to them.”
When it was his turn to speak, Paterson said, “Alan, you see, Eliot Spitzer has a wonderful spouse, Silva Wall Spitzer, and if you knew her you would know that Eliot would choose me as a running mate, but he would never have chosen me as his spouse. However, what Eliot’s saying is that he should have had the choice.