I tried. I really tried to understand how, in front of a crowd of more than 200 gay Democrats, Eliot Spitzer could in one breath say that he is for marriage equality and in the next say that he believes that our state laws as written do not support it. Is this a subtle distinction I am missing? Or is it political posturing at its best?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Spitzer has been one of our state’s most effective and charismatic attorneys general and for that I applaud him. He has taken important stands against corporate corruption, the weakening of environmental protections, and Wall Street impropriety. He has stood up to Washington in a way that all progressive Americans can appreciate. And, I do believe he will be New York’s next governor.
But for a staunch marriage advocate, one who has been working on the issue for almost a decade, one who went to Canada to marry my husband in part because of Spitzer’s statements that New York legal precedents dictate that my Canadian marriage be recognized here, I could not reconcile my hope in his words of support for marriage equality with my disappointment at his failure to live by those words in court.
You see, Eliot Spitzer has spent a lot of time and effort in court attempting to convince the judiciary that New York’s Domestic Relations Law, the law that creates some 800 rights and responsibilities for married people in New York, shouldn’t apply to gay people because it could not reasonably be contemplated that the people who drafted those laws had gay people in mind when they did so.
I am an attorney and I understand the importance of words, particularly in the law. I understand that the legislative intent of the drafters of a statute or group of statutes is often a key to expanding their scope. I know that there are processes and avenues through which to make these cases. But I also find it difficult to credit a man who says that, if he is elected governor, he will introduce legislation making marriage available to all citizens while he has made no direct effort to get the courts to stand up at this time for our right to marry and in fact has been a leader in arguing against them doing so.
All said, I will probably vote for Eliot Spitzer for governor. I believe that he has our community’s best interests at heart and that, at the end of the day, he will try to introduce marriage equality legislation if he becomes governor. That does not mean that I will cease putting the screws to him about the state’s—and his—position in court. Marriage is by far the most important political issue to me, but I am not a one-issue voter. It is important to make a list of all the issues that affect you and rank the candidates according to their positions on those issues. In the end, everyone feels as though they are compromising in one area or another. It is inevitable. But we must be careful not to let that sense of frustration turn us off to politics in general. If we did so, then those who do vote solely based on a single issue would rule—and that is a very dangerous possibility.
I cannot tell you how many of my husband Gary’s family members and friends voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 election solely because of their positions on a single issue. I know at least a dozen Catholics who voted for Bush because of abortion. I know others who were so terrified by the picture of terror that Bush and his cronies painted that they voted for him out of a laser focus on that issue.
Whatever your reason in choosing a candidate for New York’s next governor, do the work that it will take to ensure that, in the end, you are satisfied with your choice. Start preparing your lists of priority issues now and press the candidates on those issues repeatedly. If you are unhappy with how Eliot Spitzer has been handling the marriage issue, let him know it, as I have. Be a thorn in your candidate’s side, then give him or her money. The truth of politics may be ugly, but now, more than ever, our lives depend on it.
Anthony M. Brown served as research assistant to Nan Hunter, founder of the ACLU’s Gay and Lesbian Project and helped prepare the brief for the Lawrence v. Texas sodomy case while interning at Lambda Legal in 2002. He currently heads the Nontraditional Family and Estates Law division of the law firm of McKenna, Siracusano & Chianese and is on the board of directors of The Wedding Party. He can be reached at Brown@msclaw.net.