New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg thought he had come to a reasonable solution in the gay marriage debate: He would publicly support gay marriage but challenge a court decision allowing it. Instead, the plans of the moderate Republican mayor running for a second term in November have pleased almost no one. Fellow Republicans are calling him a Democrat in disguise, and gays are calling him a coward.
"The mayor has a problem: that he's basically a typical Manhattan left-wing liberal," said Thomas Ognibene, a Republican former city council member who recently announced he will challenge Bloomberg for the party's mayoral nomination this year. State senator Tom Duane, a Manhattan Democrat who is openly gay, was more succinct. "Mayor Bloomberg," he said, "is a coward."
On Monday, Bloomberg said he is simply trying to follow state law and represent a diverse city's best interests at the same time. He also defended his strategy of refusing to state his personal position on same-sex marriage for the past three years until he announced the legal challenge two days ago. "I've thought long and hard about it, and I decided that this time was the time to stand up and say what I believe in my heart of hearts," said Bloomberg. "But my beliefs are separate from the legal strategies the city will take."
Columbia University political science professor Steve Cohen said the debate is a microcosm of bigger problems Bloomberg has had in his overwhelmingly Democratic city, including questions about his ties to President Bush, who is very unpopular in New York. "It continues to highlight the problems he's got of being pulled between his Republican base, which is center-right, and representing the entire city, where being in the center politically, is center-left," said Cohen.
The issue has come back to haunt the mayor almost a year after more than 100 same-sex couples showed up at the city clerk's office last March demanding marriage licenses. They were turned down. At the time, Bloomberg said he went "back and forth" over whether same-sex marriages should be allowed.
The debate reemerged when state supreme court justice Doris Ling-Cohan ruled Friday that the state's ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional and that the city clerk may not deny a license solely because a couple are of the same sex. The ruling came after five gay couples filed a lawsuit last year after they were denied marriage licenses by the city.
New York is among a handful of states without laws explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman, making it an important venue in the gay marriage debate.
When Bloomberg said he had decided that the city would appeal the ruling, he cited the "chaos" in San Francisco after that city issued marriage licenses to almost 4,000 same-sex couples last year. The marriages were later ruled invalid. "What the city doesn't want to have happen is people getting a marriage license and then six months, or one year later, or two years later, finding out it's meaningless," Bloomberg said Monday. "That is not in anybody's interest. I think it is in everybody's interest to have the courts finally decide what our current laws say."
Advocates for same-sex marriage, however, are unmoved. "The only thing stopping same-sex couples from getting married legally was Mayor Michael Bloomberg," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "It's nice that he supports gay marriage, but what we want is action."
Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler said the mayor knew all along his stance would not be accepted by everyone. "The mayor knew when he made his decision on Saturday that people on both sides of this issue were going to be unhappy," said Skyler. "But he does what he thinks is right, not what he thinks will score him political points." (AP)