By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com April 26 2011 9:15 AM ET
New York city council speaker Christine Quinn said that she believes New York is on the verge of an “amazing, amazing victory” for marriage equality, and she suggested that her recent lobbying has been able to change at least one state senator’s vote from no to yes.
Quinn, among the most prominent gay elected officials in the country, addressed the annual Night at the Pier event hosted Monday in Manhattan by the Family Equality Council, which works to secure the rights of LGBT parents and families nationwide. The lawmaker made the marriage equality campaign in New York a focus of her remarks.
“If it wasn’t for all of you, we wouldn’t be on the verge of what I believe is going to be an amazing, amazing victory for New York,” she told the crowd of 600 attendees at Pier 60.
Quinn and others expressed similar optimism in the run-up to the senate vote in 2009, when the marriage equality bill suffered a 38-24 defeat attributed in part to betrayals from Democrats who had pledged support. In a memorable press conference after the vote, the speaker shed tears as she discussed how she and her partner wanted to marry while their elderly fathers were still alive.
On Monday, Quinn indicated that she had made progress in a recent lobbying trip to Albany, the state capital. She reported on a promising conversation with a senator who had been a “very disappointing ‘no’ vote on marriage.”
“When I met with this senator last week, at the end of the meeting, the senator said to me, ‘I will make sure that your father gets to see you dance at your wedding,’” said Quinn.
Nonetheless, the official number of votes for marriage equality in the senate stands at 26, a number that has not changed since the November elections. A survey reported Monday by NY1's Inside City Hall found 36 senators, including four Democrats and all 32 Republicans, opposed, although other counts have indicated that some of the Democrats and a few Republicans stand undecided. In order to secure the 32 votes required to pass the bill, it is anticipated that advocates need to flip at least two of the four Democrats and a handful of Republicans, none of whom supported the measure two years ago. The Democratic-controlled assembly already has approved the marriage equality bill three times.
Compared to 2009, the landscape this year appears significantly more favorable, and many advocates believe that the upcoming two months offer the most opportune window of time in which to win marriage equality. One strong factor is the backing of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who enjoys high approval ratings and has demonstrated an ability to work with the Republican-controlled senate in order to pass an on-time budget, a rare feat in Albany.
Quinn, an early Cuomo endorser, reminded the audience of his personal commitment on Monday. She gave a special acknowledgment to Alphonso David, the governor’s deputy secretary for civil rights, who attended the event.
“I’m not at all surprised that when you ask the governor how he defines success in his first year, he says the budget, ethics reform, and marriage equality,” she said, adding that “there is no elected official in the state of New York who is working harder” to ensure that LGBT families are protected under the law.
Other favorable factors include polling that shows 58% of New York voters, an unprecedented majority, support marriage equality, with a record low of 36% opposed. Also, the major LGBT advocacy groups last week announced the formation of a coalition, New Yorkers United for Marriage, that already has expanded to include the Log Cabin Republicans of New York and the New York League of Women Voters. The coalition, which aims for more coordinated deployment of the member groups' resources, said it planned to spend as much as $1 million on a media campaign in the upcoming weeks, in addition to lobbying and field work in targeted districts.
Perhaps more persuasive for some lawmakers, advocates point to their successful campaigns to unseat three senators who voted against the marriage equality bill, one Republican and two Democrats, as evidence of LGBT political clout and willingness to play bare-knuckle politics.
In addition to an overview of developments in New York and across the country, the Night at the Pier raised funds for the Family Equality Council with a call for contributions during the dinner hour alone generating $200,000. The event, which drew attendees including Rosie O’Donnell, MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, and Iowa marriage advocate Zach Wahls, honored foster parent advocate Mary T. Keane, The Kids Are All Right director Lisa Cholodenko, and cast members from the Broadway musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
A performance of the LGBT-themed musical happens to be tied to a major fund-raiser for Governor Cuomo June 14, just days before the end of the legislative session and during the height of the Pride season.