Bloomberg's Case for Marriage Equality



New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered a significant address Thursday afternoon in which he made an intellectual and personal case for the marriage equality bill that could come before the state legislature within weeks.

The nearly 20-minute speech, delivered in Manhattan before more than 150 invited guests of the administration, positioned marriage equality as the next step in the inevitable expansion of “freedom, liberty, and equality” that has defined the American experience through the abolition of slavery, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and minority civil rights. The mayor made special mention of New York City as the home of the Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 uprising credited with sparking the modern gay rights movement.

“The time has come for us to fulfill the dreams that exploded into Sheridan Square 42 years ago to allow thousands of men and women to become full members of the American family, and to take the next step on the inspired journey our founding fathers first began,” said Bloomberg to the audience at Cooper Union, which was founded by abolitionist Peter Cooper.

His speech argued for marriage equality in highly personal terms while also directing appeals toward undecided state senators, whom he described as “torn,” urging them to vote on the right side of history. Last week Bloomberg, a Republican turned independent, made his first visit to Albany for the exclusive purpose of lobbying members of that chamber, where no Republican supported the bill in 2009, when it passed the assembly for a third time but failed in the senate.

“It is my hope that members of the state senate majority will recognize that supporting marriage equality is not only consistent with our civic principles — it is consistent with conservative principles,” he said. “Conservatives believe that government should not intrude into people’s personal lives — and it’s just none of government’s business who you love.”

The reference to conservatives holds special import in New York, where Conservative Party leader Michael Long, who opposes marriage equality, has vowed to withhold his party’s influential endorsement from lawmakers who support the bill. In an acknowledgment of religious opposition, the mayor underscored that marriage equality is a “civil issue,” where the bill proposed in Albany puts no requirements on religious institutions to perform or sanction same-sex ceremonies.

By turns passionate and pragmatic, the remarks represented the mayor’s latest use of the high-profile speech medium to address a potentially contentious issue about which he feels strongly. His gay niece Rachel Tiven, the executive director of Immigration Equality, mentioned his defense last summer of the Islamic cultural center proposed near ground zero in her introduction of the mayor.

“I know that he doesn’t agonize about defending these rights,” she said. “It’s not hard for him to come to these positions. He doesn’t weigh his poll numbers or consult advisers. These issues are very clear to him and uncomplicated. Individual liberty and personal freedom are the essence of the Constitution. They are what make us American.”

Bloomberg referenced his niece and spoke generally about gay friends and members of his staff in the speech. Audience members included John Feinblatt, chief policy adviser to the mayor, and his partner, Consumer Affairs commissioner Jonathan Mintz, who attended with one of their two young daughters.

“There’s a reason I’m so passionate about this issue — and so determined to push for change. I see the pain the status quo causes — and I cannot defend it,” said Bloomberg. “When I meet a New Yorker who is gay, when I speak with friends and members of my staff who are gay, or when I look into the eyes of my niece, Rachel, I cannot tell them that their government is correct in denying them the right to marry. I cannot tell them that marriage is not for them. I cannot tell them that a civil union is good enough.”

The audience reserved applause for the conclusion of the speech, except for sustained clapping after the point at which Bloomberg called for both houses of the state legislature to debate and vote on the marriage equality bill this session. That approach would seem to put him at odds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a coalition of advocates, who stand in unanimous agreement to vote only on legislation that has the 32 votes needed to pass in the Republican-controlled senate.

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