Leaders of Color for N.Y. Marriage

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com May 20 2011 2:25 PM ET

More than 50 prominent leaders of color signed a letter to New York lawmakers in support of marriage equality Thursday, while a new poll suggested that African-American voters’ opposition to same-sex marriage was solidifying but Latino voters’ support may be increasing.

New Yorkers United for Marriage, the bipartisan coalition of five LGBT advocacy organizations working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pass the marriage equality bill within the next month, released the open letter from elected officials, union and community leaders to the state legislature on Thursday. The letter places the issue squarely within the context of the civil rights movement.

“What we learned from the civil rights movement to end racial discrimination informs our fight to end other discrimination based on who you are. It is a bedrock American value that all are created equal. Our laws must reflect that core belief,” wrote the leaders.

“This fight is not just about legal rights. It is about our brothers and sisters, our uncles and cousins, our neighbors and co-workers,” they continued. “It is about the strong families and communities which we ourselves cherish. Why should we rob others of the joys and blessings – and protections – of one of the most valued institutions in our society?”

Signatories from across New York state include former governor David Paterson (pictured), former New York City mayor David Dinkins, and out leaders including New York City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, Marjorie Hill of GMHC, Bishop Zachary Jones, and Ana María Archila of Make the Road NY.

The letter arrived as a new Siena College Research Poll suggested that undecided African-American voters in the state were solidifying in their opposition to same-sex marriage. According to the poll, 44% of African-American voters support “making same sex marriages legal in New York State,” compared to 52% opposed, and 4% undecided. Last month, a Siena poll indicated that 46% of African-American voters supported making same-sex marriage legal, 45% opposed the possibility, and 9% were undecided.

Among Latinos in New York, the findings suggested that some formerly opposed voters have moved to an undecided position. In the new poll, 55% supported making same-sex marriage legal, 41% opposed it, and 4% were undecided. In April, the Siena survey found that 54% of Latino voters supported making same-sex marriage legal, 45% were opposed, and 1% were undecided.

All in all, the Siena poll showed that support for making same-sex marriage legal fell slightly this month, to 54% from an all-time high of 56% last month, but a majority of voters remain in favor. However, in the remaining few weeks of the session, voters most want legislators to address the issues of a property tax cap and ethics reform, which combined with marriage equality represent the trio of priorities embraced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Siena poll showed that favorability remains high at 71% for Cuomo.

According to the poll, same-sex marriage is strongly opposed by Republican and conservative voters in New York, and they appear far more motivated to retaliate against legislators on the issue. Notably, among voters who oppose making same-sex marriage legal, 60% said they would be less likely to vote for a legislator who supported the issue. Among voters who support same-sex marriage, only 49% said they would be less likely to vote for their lawmakers if he or she opposed them on the issue.

New Yorkers United for Marriage released a statement that highlighted the continuity in the poll’s findings.

"The Siena survey shows once again that marriage equality has evolved into a mainstream issue that enjoys broad public support, with 56% of independent New Yorkers, 60% of political moderates and 58% of suburban voters supporting equality, said Cathy Marino-Thomas, board president of Marriage Equality New York. “Momentum continues to build across the-board and we're hopeful that all committed and loving couples will be able to marry by the summer."

The marriage equality bill has passed the Democratic-controlled assembly three times, but it still needs at least six votes to pass the Republican-controlled senate by the last day of session on June 20.