Volume 79, Number 5 | July 8 - 14, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


We deserve better

This was supposed to be the year for marriage equality and other progressive L.G.B.T. breakthroughs. In Washington, the nation witnessed the historic inauguration of the first African-American president, a compelling, transformational leader who took office voicing the strongest pro-L.G.B.T. agenda in history. In Albany, after 40 years, the Democrats finally were back in control of the state Senate; they offered the promise of enacting three key pieces of legislation that the former Republican leadership had stood in the way of — marriage equality, transgender rights and a school anti-bullying law with protections based on sexual and gender identity.

The first six months of 2009 have instead provided plenty of reason for disappointment and frustration.

In Albany, we opened the year on a rudely uncertain note. The gay-and-lesbian community had poured blood, sweat and treasure into last fall’s legislative elections, which resulted in a razor-thin 32-to-30 Democratic advantage in the Senate. However, three of the 32, among them Bronx Pentecostal minister Ruben Diaz, an implacable gay-rights foe, threatened to bolt to the Republican fold, returning control to the G.O.P. Some manner of deal was struck to avoid that disaster; but the manner in which negotiations were carried out left many gay advocates nervous about whether the Senate’s new Democratic leadership would stay true to their pledge to advance the cause of marriage equality.

Undeterred, the Empire State Pride Agenda, state Senator Tom Duane — the lead sponsor on all three L.G.B.T. bills — and other advocates simply pressed on, Duane working his colleagues, periodically announcing progress. In mid-April, to considerable fanfare, Governor David Paterson introduced the marriage-equality measure.

As polls continued to show increases in support for marriage equality and transgender rights among New Yorkers, there was a growing sense of inevitability about these issues. During the spring, four states in rapid succession — Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire — adopted marriage equality. Dean Skelos, the Republican leader in our state Senate, said his members could vote their consciences on gay marriage, that they would not be held to a uniform party position. And then, early in June, Joe Bruno, the retired Republican majority leader who for years had been a bulwark against timely gay-rights advances — each time holding out for some political trade or another — voluntarily came forward to say he now supported gay marriage. “It’s time,” he said simply.

Then came June 8. A Republican coup, in which two Democrats defected from their party’s control of the Senate, appeared to oust the existing leadership and restore the old regime. Except one of the Democratic rebels scampered back home. And since then, nothing. Deadlock. Inaction. Arrogant disregard for the fact that state government is at a standstill.

The damage is far from limited to the L.G.B.T. community. But it’s that community and its supporters that likely will have to temper their expectations more than most. Victories were possible on all three issues — marriage, transgender rights and school bullying — this year. Now, we sit by anxiously, hoping we can at a minimum see action on one, namely marriage equality. Realistically, given the littered terrain of Albany, that’s the very best we can expect.

There is still time for the state Senate to do the right thing, go back to work and give us a vote on marriage. If Duane is correct that he has the votes in hand, that of course would be a sweet victory indeed — and one that should bode well for the chamber soon, perhaps in 2010, finishing up its long-neglected work on gender rights and school safety.

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