Will Cuomo Get on the Phone?

As he was entering the State Senate chamber this week, Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., a Queens Democrat, told Gay City News that Governor Andrew Cuomo has not spoken to him about legislation that would allow gay and lesbian New Yorkers to marry.

Cuomo is being praised by lesbian and gay groups for his advocacy of marriage equality. He endorsed such a bill in his State of the State address. It is one of three priorities –– along with ethics reform and a property tax cap –– that Cuomo wants enacted before the Legislature adjourns on June 20.

After advocates press Albany, the governor's role may now be key

Addabbo is one of six state senators, two Democrats and four Republicans, who have signaled an undecided position on marriage. Is it remarkable that Cuomo has not called?

“I don’t think so, because we’re not sure of the time frame here,” Addabbo said, noting that a bill has not been introduced. Cuomo has not called him about any legislation, though Addabbo expects to hear from the governor on marriage equality before June 20.

A gay marriage bill has passed the State Assembly three times by wide margins since 2007. The sole Senate vote came in 2009, and the legislation was defeated in a 38 to 24 vote, with eight Democrats joining all 30 Republicans.

Today, there are 26 known same-sex marriage votes in the 62-member State Senate. Republicans hold a 32 to 30 majority, and one Democrat, Senator Ruben Diaz from the Bronx, opposes gay marriage vehemently. Under the best circumstances, marriage advocates must get at least three Republican votes.

On May 9, more than 1,200 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender New Yorkers descended on Albany to lobby for marriage, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), a bill that would bar discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and the continued funding of a network of social service agencies that aid the queer community.

While the lobbyists were exuberant, at the end of the day the future of marriage equality and GENDA remained murky. And Cuomo’s commitment can be questioned. Is he a marriage supporter or just another politician reaping political benefits by doing little more than saying he backs gay marriage?

Addabbo is not alone. Senator Greg Ball, a Republican who represents Brewster, said, “No, he hasn’t” when asked if Cuomo had contacted him about marriage. A senior aide to one of the six publically undeclared senators also reported no discussions with Cuomo, but on the condition that the aide and the senator not be identified.

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Some politicians know that they can endorse marriage –– even while fighting against it –– and still win plaudits from the lesbian and gay community.

Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s mayor, announced he was a gay marriage supporter in 2005 at the same time that he said he would appeal a court decision that required the city to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That lawsuit went to New York’s highest court, where gay advocates lost in 2006.

Bloomberg is the “main funder,” as he called himself in 2009, of the State Senate Republicans, having given them millions in campaign cash. For a time, he said that would help win their support for marriage, though he eventually acknowledged he could not garner conservative votes in the State Senate for marriage.

“Those will not be the Republican votes that I will get, but they will be there for other things that are important to the city,” he said in an interview with Gay City News in 2009, referring to Brooklyn Senator Martin Golden and Queens’ Frank Padavan, the latter of whom was defeated by Democrat Tony Avella last year.

In his 2009 reelection campaign, Bloomberg was endorsed by many high profile queers, including David Mixner, Dustin Lance Black, and Richard Socarides.

Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, who was New York’s governor from 1983 to 1994, consistently scored points in the gay and lesbian community by endorsing hate crimes legislation that included sexual orientation as a protected class. That legislation passed in 2000 and was signed by George Pataki, a Republican governor.

At the May 9 event, Equality & Justice Day, which was sponsored by the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the state’s largest gay lobby, Cuomo sent his lieutenant governor, Bob Duffy, to address the crowd.

“I think optically that may not have looked great, but the governor is a very smart guy,” said Democrat Thomas Duane, the openly gay state senator who represents Chelsea. “He’s been an effective leader on this issue, so I wouldn’t read too much into that.”

Earlier, Duane addressed those attending the ESPA lobby day, saying of the State Senate Republicans, “They would not vote in favor of our right to marry, and they would not vote for GENDA if the vote were held today.”

Throughout the day, the attendees could be seen meeting with state senators in the halls outside of their offices or in the lobby outside of the Senate chamber.

Jeffrey Klein, a Bronx Democrat and a marriage supporter, promised to do more to advance a marriage vote. Senator Michael F. Nozzolio, a Republican who represents Seneca Falls, told a group only that he would think about the issue. Nozzolio voted against marriage in 2009. Ball, who won his State Senate seat in 2010 but voted against marriage three times in the Assembly, was equivocal when questioned by a dozen lobbyists.

Advocates have been burned before. In 2009, four of the Democratic no votes came from senators, including Addabbo, who received significant gay money and assistance. Before that vote, Duane made bold promises about what would result from the community’s support of those Democrats –– successful marriage and GENDA votes. Following the 2009 debacle, Duane was saying the community had been betrayed. Now, the community needs reliable promises.

“We have to get the majority of senators to say publicly that they will vote in favor of our right to be married and that they will vote in favor of the right of people of transgender experience to have full civil rights,” Duane told reporters following his speech. “They have to say it on the record.”