Taking No Chances

Pride Agenda mobilizes against possible Albany DOMA vote next Tuesday

Urgent alerts went out this week from the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) and Marriage Equality warning that the Republican-led New York State Senate could be poised to vote to pass the state Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), banning same-sex marriage, on Tuesday, the last official day of the session

But out gay state Senator Tom Duane (D-West Side) told Gay City News,

“DOMA is dead. There will be no vote in the Senate.”

The Pride Agenda wasn’t taking any chances on whether or not there would be a vote on Tuesday. The group is working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups and supporters across the state to either prevent a vote or to make sure DOMA goes down if there is one. ESPA is asking the community to get back to them at 212 627 0305 with information on where individual state senators stand. And the group plans a rally at New York City’s LGBT Community Center on Tuesday night should DOMA go through.

As Gay City News went to press, the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley was holding a rally to send a message to the three Republican senators from Monroe County who will vote in private party conference on whether to bring DOMA to the floor. Two are sponsors of the bill.

“I don’t know what the Senate is going to do and I don’t think they know,” said Alan Van Capelle on Tuesday after several hundred fundamentalists rallied outside the State Capitol demanding passage of DOMA.

At that overheated Albany rally, Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-C-Queens), the chief sponsor of S.2220, warned, “The next logical step is polygamy and incest!” Assemblymember Tony Seminerio (D-C-Glendale), lead sponsor of DOMA in his house, said, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. It’s against the law of God and nature to have same-sex marriage.”

The rally was organized by Rev. Duane Motley’s New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a fringe right religious group, and also attracted anti-gay crusader Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr. (D-Bronx) and Sen. George Maziarz (R-C-North Tonawanda), who said, “This is one bill we can’t leave Albany without.”

But Motley told the Oneonta Daily, “Legislators are afraid to touch it. They’re afraid of the homosexual lobby.”

There is said to be enormous pressure coming from the state’s Conservative Party for a DOMA vote in the Senate. Many Republicans receive their electoral margin of victory from their cross-endorsement by the Conservatives. In one sign of the Conservatives’ newly aggressive stance, the party is mounting a primary challenge to upstate Republican Sen. Nancy Lorraine Hoffman, by Thomas V. Dadey, who will run as a third party Conservative nominee if he loses the primary. Hoffman was the lead Republican Senate sponsor of the gay right law passed in 2002. Dadey is also backed by the national Club for Growth, a conservative group upset with Senate Republican leaders for not holding the line on spending.

Senate Republican leaders must weigh the wrath of the Conservative Party against the challenge Republicans face from Democrats in suburban districts in which the underlying demographics and political attitudes are moving against divisive issues such as DOMA.

“The Conservative Party is on the wane,” said Duane. “We’re getting more gambling than ever [something opposed by the Conservatives] and they’re running a third party candidate for the U.S. Senate. The combination of Rev. Ruben Diaz and the Conservative Party is a big loser.”

Van Capelle said passage of DOMA by the Senate “would be a great leap backward” after the progress it has made in recent years in passing hate crimes legislation, the gay rights law, and some benefits for surviving same-sex partners of those lost in the 9/11 catastrophe.

“They shouldn’t taint their record,” Van Capelle said. “I’m not sure DOMA is the legacy Joe Bruno wants left behind,” noting that in using the word “defense,” the bill “labels gays and lesbians as predators.”

Van Capelle is promising “a difficult summer” for senators who vote for DOMA.

“We’ll be in the streets,” he said.

Mark Hanson, a spokesperson for Bruno, said that the DOMA bill is “under consideration” but that “no vote is scheduled” for Tuesday as yet. It may be scheduled right up until Tuesday morning. Bruno does not have a public position on DOMA, but has expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. The office of Republican Gov. George Pataki did not return a call seeking his position on DOMA.

While many states moved swiftly to ban same-sex marriage when it looked like Hawaii would legalize it in 1996—the effort was turned back by voter referendum—New York’s Defense of Marriage Act went nowhere. After the Massachusetts court decision opening marriage to same-sex couples in November, some of the 39 states that had already limited marriage to man-woman couples moved to enshrine that exclusion in their state constitutions.

When Mayor Jason West of New Paltz started marrying gay couples in March, the issue started getting discussed more seriously in Albany. Pataki reiterated his position that the marriage laws in New York should stay the way they are and that no new laws are needed. Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno told the Poughkeepsie Journal, “I believe right now the laws of New York define marriage as a man and a woman and that’s the law we should be enforcing.”

Jeff Cook, now with the national Log Cabin Republicans but up until recently the state director, said that he has heard conflicting accounts that DOMA will and that it will not get a vote Tuesday, but that there is a “real chance” it will because of “pressure from religious leaders.” Cook said that Bruno has been “tight lipped” about what will happen.

While Sen. Olga Mendez (R-Manhattan), who defected to the majority several years ago, is firmly opposed to DOMA, it is “a difficult issue” for most Republican members, Cook said.

“There is a willingness to discuss civil unions” and “other incremental reforms,” he added, but there hasn’t been much lobbying on those issues as we fight “defensive battles.”

Connie Ress, executive director of Marriage Equality/USA, said, “If Pride Agenda takes it seriously, we do. People should call their state senators.”

DOMA has 19 sponsors in the Senate out of 62 members and 14 in the Assembly out of 150.

Democratic State Attorney General Eliot Spitz issued an opinion earlier this year that New York law did not allow for issuing licenses to gay couples, but that New York must recognize legally contracted same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. He has nevertheless vigorously contested a lawsuit by gay couples seeking the right to marry here.

Even if the Senate were to pass DOMA on Tuesday, everyone agrees that it could only be a one-house bill.

“It’s dead on our side,” said Assemblymember Deborah Glick, an out lesbian Manhattan Democrat. “Everyone is consumed with the lack of a budget and there is not a lot else going on.”

Despite the widespread agreement that the Democratic-controlled Assembly would not move on DOMA, the word out of the speaker’s office was less than full-throated. Eileen Larrabee, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said the bill “does not appear to have the support necessary to go to the floor, so we would not expect it to move this year.” She added, however, that Silver “does not have a personal position on it.”

Glick recently won passage in the Assembly of her bill giving domestic partners hospital visitation rights. The bill, which passed 140-1, defines domestic partners as those who are registered as such in their localities or who are “mutually dependent on one another for support.”

“This is another step in our continuing efforts to provide recognition to the meaningful relationships that compose our society,” she said, though no vote is scheduled in the Senate.

Meanwhile, New York same-sex couples legally married in Canada are encountering inconsistent treatment from Geico Car Insurance, recognizing some and not others. Lambda Legal is urging the company to “comply with state law and respect valid marriages of same-sex couples in determining car insurance rates and coverages.”

We also publish: