The New York State Senate has voted to block gay marriage legislation by a 38-24 vote. All Senate Republicans voted against the legislation, while eight Democrats also voted against. There were, however, some beautiful speeches.
Senator Ruben Diaz kicked things off on a somber note, however. He’s been against gay marriage legislation from the start, and, after reeling off a list of states that had voted down same-sex marriage, he said that the Senate vote on gay marriage should never have been allowed, and added:
“Let the people decide… don’t do away with the will of the people.”
He called on fellow senators to “remember your family values”, and said:
“Join me, a Democrat, join me… a minority,” to vote against the legislation.
This would be the first of many references made to racial equality during the session.
Senator Eric T. Schiederman testified for gay marriage, saying:
“The essence of the United States of America is… equality. This bill does nothing to take anything away from heterosexuals… our rights to marry stay the same… this myth that this is going to effect religious institutions… the facts do not support it.”
“I urge you, don’t get distracted. Keep your eye on what this is about… vote “Yes”. Please, this is our moment.”
Senator Eric Adams chose to read a list of states that “participated in black slavery”, making reference to the idea that denying the right of gay marriage was a denial of civil rights too. He called the chance to vote on marriage equality a moment “where we can benchmark our lives by the vote we took”.
Adams then went on to tell senators not to rely on the “numerical majority” represented by states voting against same-sex marriage, but rather, to hold to the ideals of equality enshrined in America’s constitution, and, for that reason, to vote in favor of gay marriage.
He then drew parallels between gay marriage and interracial marriage, saying:
“If you want to close your eyes, you will hear the same comments being made… they said for blacks to be married to each other, it was an abomination… it would destroy the institution of marriage.”
He then added that he, as a religious man, understood that this vote might be perceived as difficult for some, but said that religion could not be allowed to interfere with his decision to vote “Yes” on gay marriage, because:
“When I walk through these doors, my bible stays out.”
Senator Ruben Diaz criticized this statement, saying that, for him, such a thing was impossible.
Senator David J. Valesky stood and asked why it was that gay marriage continued to be such a difficult issue? As legislators, he said, they must go to the facts, affirming that this debate was not a matter of religion, and saying:
“This bill is about a civil, legal commitment that provides benefits to same-sex couples.”
He added that the bill could not, and did not, infringe on the rights of religious institutions to refuse the right to marry any that did not meet their approval. Essentially, he proposed that nothing would change for religious institutions that did not want to recognize gay marriage.
Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. chose a different take. He said that, if he were to go back to his constituents, it would be likely that they would not respond in favor of same-sex marriage. This had to effect his decision. He then said, however, that as a senator, his responsibilities went beyond just general opinion, and that he must uphold the standards enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. On this he said:
“It is constitutionally correct to vote “Yes”. I [also] think it’s morally correct to vote “Yes”.”
Perhaps the most poignant speech came from Senator Liz Krueger. She said that she was speaking to the Senate as a female senator of the Jewish faith and that all these factors, that she was Jewish, that she was a woman, and that she was a senator, meant that she was compelled to vote to approve gay marriage, calling to anyone among the New York Senate who had experienced discrimination to vote to approve gay marriage as a “fundamental” right.
Senator José M. Serrano also spoke eloquently on the topic of equality, saying:
“[Gay marriage] will make our communities stronger… no one should be subjugated to less rights than anyone else. Marriage equality is very much the foundation of the American ideal in its most organic form.”
Senator Malcolm A. Smith chose to confront the issues of gay marriage and the Church head on, saying:
“The bible does not say that same-sex marriage is wrong… what is wrong is when you quote the bible for your own purposes…. Everybody brings up religion, starts talking about the Church. This is not a challenge to the Church.”
He added that, not only should the bill be debated, but that “this is a day that history needs to record” gay marriage passing the New York Senate. Sadly, it was not to be, but Smith’s words were powerful nonetheless.
Senator Tom Duane, who had been the leading light for the same-sex marriage bill, closed the floor discussion, saying that, to him, the debate was intensely personal. Fighting back tears, he said that “there’s never a right time for civil rights” but the paradox is “it’s always the time to be on the right side of history”.
He urged the Senate to pass the Marriage Equality Bill, and talked openly about how many of the senators had associated with him and his partner outside of the chamber. He made a point to emphasize that it was time to treat gay spouses publicly with the same respect that the senators had shown him privately.
The vote then went to roll-call. As expected, all the Republican members of the Senate voted against gay marriage legislation. The National Organization of Marriage (NOM) had threatened that any Republican who voted for the bill would be campaigned against and would not get re-elected.
Reaction to the N.Y. Gay Marriage Vote
The Human Rights Campaign released this statement from Joe Solmonese, President of the action group:
“Today’s vote is a vote against equal treatment for all New York families. The Senate voted to continue to impose tangible, unacceptable harms on same-sex couples and their families. While some couples may be fortunate enough to travel out of state to marry and receive the protections that every family deserves, the current state of New York law leaves many families behind. We thank Senate Majority Leader John Sampson for bringing the bill to the floor so that this injustice could be debated and ended. Unfortunately, many senators did not vote to end discrimination. The senators who voted against marriage equality today are on the wrong side of history, but the history of marriage equality will not end with today’s vote. We will not stop fighting until every New York family has equal access to the protections and responsibilities of marriage.”
The Log Cabin Republicans have also issued a statement, saying:
“Today we share in the frustration and disappointment that the Senate did not pass the marriage equality bill. We are deeply saddened that the Democratic Conference failed to secure the votes they promised, undermining the possibility of a credible bipartisan vote of conscience on the merits of marriage equality.
Winning marriage equality in New York requires the Democrats to keep their promises, and Log Cabin will continue to work to ensure that Republicans vote their conscience when that finally happens.”
And finally, Empire State Pride released a statement, a part of which reads:
“To the tens of thousands of LGBT New Yorkers who have worked hard for equality, and to those who may for the very first time have become politically involved due to this fight, our message is as follows:
Our fight continues. Marriage equality is coming to New York. Time clearly is on our side and you can be sure that we will never stop working until we win.
To those Senators who do not yet see our families as deserving the same protections as other families in New York, our message is simple:
We are more committed than ever to this fight. We will redouble our efforts in your district to ensure that our voice is heard. We know our cause is just. We know that a growing majority of New Yorkers believes in the same values of fairness and equality that we do. If you cannot support us, we will find candidates for public office who do, and we will work through the democratic system to affect needed change.”
But there was one ray of light, a little, tiny hope amid this cloud of disappointment, and I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it here. There was one senator that had been undecided about gay marriage, who rose above the crowd when it came time to voice her opinion. That was Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson.
During the floor debate, Hassell-Thompson revealed, for the first time, that her brother was gay, and that his sexuality had meant that he was rejected by their religious parents. She said that her sister, a preacher now, would not approve of the stance that she would take on this subject, but remembering her brother – who, sadly, is no longer living – Hassell-Thompson knew she had to vote in favor of marriage equality because voters that elected her in her district did not elect her so that she could vote on other people’s morality.
Hassell-Thompson said that gay marriage was a question of choice, and that she was obligated to vote in favor of giving people that choice, just as she wished that her brother had been given the very same option when he was alive and part of a “committed relationship”, because his partner was, basically, treated like a stranger in the eyes of the law when her brother died.
As to the Democrats who voted against marriage equality, speaking after the vote, Senator Tom Duane perhaps said it best when he called the defeat a “betrayal” and said that it showed a “contagious lack of backbone”.
If you are interested to know how the final vote shaped up, the senator’s names were recorded during the roll-call vote.