Gillibrand’s N.Y. Marriage Fight

BY Andrew Harmon

May 17 2011 9:00 AM ET

Were you asked to make these calls?

No. I’ve done it because I feel very passionately about it.

How much contact have you had with Gov. Cuomo on this issue?

The last time I saw him [at a September 11 memorial event in New York City earlier this month], I just thanked him for his leadership on this. I told him how proud I was that he was taking leadership on this issue, and I told him that he would be successful on this issue.

When did you decide in your career that you were in full support of marriage equality?

When I was asked. [Laughs] Well, I’ve always been in support of marriage equality. I have many, many gay friends. My mother had many, many gay friends. And so these friends have been part of our family circle for a very long time. And these are loving, committed couples. You don’t mention Gary without mentioning Jack. That’s just the nature of the friends who we are friends with. So I’ve always believed they should have every right and privilege of every other family in America.

As a congresswoman, I was asked to state my position in an interview with [New York Post Albany bureau chief Fredric] Dicker [in 2008]. And he asked, “Do you support marriage equality in New York?” And I said, “Yes, I do.” And that was when I was a Congresswoman from an upstate New York district, before I was appointed to the Senate.

On the federal level, are you disappointed that there is no bipartisan support on the Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act?

There will be.

What makes you so sure?

Because, again, time is shifting the landscape. On repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” we had the support of Republicans whom you wouldn’t have imagined.

What’s your view on the House members who have attached amendments to the 2012 Defense Authorization Act to delay "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, as well as to make sure that same-sex weddings cannot be performed at on-base facilities by military chaplains? Can we expect to see similar amendments offered in the Senate bill?

I don’t think so. And I’m confident that they will fail. I don’t think we will see the same push for it on the senate side.

[John] McCain would be the only [senator]. And I don’t think he’ll do it. I don’t think he’ll put his political capital out there to be antigay. Frankly, I think, in another year or two, we would get [McCain] too, in support.

I had many conversations with Senator McCain about his views, and he had a view that, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?” And I said, “It is broken. You just haven’t talked to gay men and women for whom this policy has devastated their lives, has undermined their sense of integrity and character.”

He’s someone who cares so deeply about the armed services, he cares so deeply about the personnel. And I think if he had the opportunity to meet with more gay servicemembers and really hear their experiences in a less polarized and political setting, he would be moved.

If you listen to his speeches, he was just worried about the effect on the troops. One of his arguments was that this will be a distraction, that lives will be lost. And my response was, this is not distracting: Our men and women will perform under the code of conduct that they are expected to perform under. And they’ve been performing their duties with gay Americans since the beginning of time.

Are you concerned for the welfare of gay service members as to how repeal was passed — that they are not part of the military’s equal opportunity policy, that there are many questions about benefits they will be excluded from?

We will work through all of those issues. And that may take time. It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take five years. But that is the nature of changing policy like this. And we will work through all these issues.

What’s your reaction to Navy Chief of Chaplains Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd's decision last week to suspend his original decision permitting same-sex weddings on base, for military chaplains who choose to perform them? Obviously he has taken a lot of political heat.

These things will change. The military is ready to implement these changes. Politics may well get in the way of the timing of it.
 
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