Volume 76, Number 37 | February 7 -13, 2007

Glick to Gottfried on marriage: ‘Get off the train’

By Paul Schindler

Asked recently about the push for a marriage-equality law in Albany, Deborah Glick, a 16-year state Assembly veteran and the longest-serving lesbian or gay elected official in New York, warned, “I don’t think in many places it will be an easy sell.”

At the same time, the West Village Democrat was confident that if gay-marriage supporters can line up a majority of the 150-seat Assembly behind such a bill from among her 107 Democratic colleagues, Speaker Sheldon Silver will call the measure up for a vote.

To date, Silver, whose Lower East Side constituency includes a significant number of Orthodox Jews, many of whose leaders traditionally have strongly opposed gay civil rights measures, has deferred comment on the marriage issue, saying he needed to first consult with the Assembly’s Democratic Conference.

“If the sense of the conference is in support, the bill would be moved” for a vote of the full Assembly, Glick said during an interview last month.

Even if the Assembly were to pass a gay-marriage bill, action by the Republican-dominated State Senate is inconceivable. However, a special election Feb. 6 in Nassau County to fill the seat vacated by Republican Michael Balboni, who has become the state’s homeland security chief, and the grand jury probe into Majority Leader Joseph Bruno’s business dealings have clouded the G.O.P. grip — a 33-28 majority — on the State Senate.

New Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer has pledged support for gay marriage.

In September, Jonathan Bing, an Upper East Side Democratic assemblymember, predicted between 58 and 60 of the five boroughs’ 64 Assembly Democrats will support gay marriage. With 21 Democratic votes already identified outside the city by Empire State Pride Agenda, if Bing’s prediction is accurate, there would be sufficient votes to pass the Assembly.

Glick is less optimistic: “There are a whole bunch of people in the city that would never support it…. [It] could be 30 percent of the city delegation,” she said.

Glick said opposition can be expected from Assemblymember Dov Hikind, who represents Borough Park’s large Orthodox Jewish community and has been a gay-marriage critic, and that the Catholic Church would also exert pressure on legislators’ thinking.

Before a vote, the measure must be introduced in the Assembly and State Senate. On this point, Glick could find herself at odds with the two legislators who have to date sponsored the gay-marriage bill — Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and State Senator Tom Duane. The two Chelsea Democrats have said they will re-file their legislation this month, possibly during Freedom to Marry Week, coinciding with Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.

Glick, in contrast, urged holding off until Spitzer is ready to introduce his gay marriage “program bill,” designed to convey the importance a governor places on his individual legislative initiatives.

In a recent interview, Gottfried said he certainly plans to move prior to March or April, which he estimated was the earliest that the governor — preoccupied early on with the budget plan he announced Jan. 31 — would act on marriage. Duane also said he would act this month.

Glick professed she had heard nothing of Gottfried and Duane’s plans to re-file their legislation, but said, “If it was up to me and I could convince each and every one of my colleagues who is supportive and thinks they want to be as helpful as possible, I would urge them to put their energy not into trying to figure out how they could introduce their own bill but to speak with one voice urging the governor to introduce his bill as soon as possible.”

Gottfried said he had not heard of Glick’s position.

“It certainly makes sense for people to be urging the governor to put his bill in sooner rather than later,” he said. “But, I don’t see that at all in conflict with putting in the Duane-Gottfried bill now to build co-sponsors. To get members to sign onto a bill, there has to be a bill.”

Gottfried added, “We would certainly look forward to harmonizing, to coordinating with the governor when he puts his bill in,” and said he would “expect” to continue as the bill’s sponsor when it gains Spitzer’s imprimatur.

But Glick’s comments on sponsorship of the Spitzer bill suggest there may be tough discussions ahead for Assembly Democrats. In short, some think a gay assemblymember — such as, Danny O’Donnell — should be the bill’s sponsor, not a heterosexual, like Gottfried.

“On some level it’s an internal discussion as to who [sponsors] legislation,” Glick said. “I would hope that there would be a unified strategic approach on L.G.B.T. rights which would mean that the L.G.B.T. community would be driving the train.”

Glick’s “driving the train” formulation recalled her battle with Gottfried last spring over a measure he sponsored regarding medical decision-making for patients too sick to state their own wishes. Glick criticized the measure for not explicitly recognizing the rights of domestic partners and for referring to “the impact of treatment decisions on the fetus,” which she said posed the risk of a slippery slope regarding a woman’s right to choose.

She said back then, “I am very tired of Dick Gottfried playing the best friend of the gay community at home when he’s constantly undermining the gay elected officials in Albany.” Gottfried’s response was terse: “I am not interested in engaging in that kind of dispute.”

Duane shared Gottfried’s view that re-filing marriage legislation this month is appropriate.

“If the governor makes my bill his program, then it is already introduced,” Duane said. “If the governor introduces a different version, we can discuss it with the governor’s people. We will all work to together in any event.”

Asked whether he saw the potential for conflict over sponsorship of the Spitzer measure in the Assembly, Duane — the state’s first openly gay state senator — said, “I’m not sticking my nose into that.”

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