New York governor Andrew Cuomo released a video message Monday morning that urges state residents to contact their lawmakers and ask them to pass the marriage equality bill.
In the 90-second video, Cuomo makes reference to the "1000 federal and 700 state rights" that are denied same-sex couples, and suggests the lack of marriage equality is a blight on New York's progressive reputation as an incubator for the women's suffrage and civil rights movements.
"This is a matter of fairness and equality," says the governor. "It is not a question of religion or culture but a question of legal rights and government policy. When it comes to fighting for what's right, New Yorkers wrote the book, and marriage equality is the next chapter of our civil rights story."
Cuomo has made the passage of a marriage equality bill, which failed the state senate in 2009, one of three priorities before the legislative session ends on June 20. The issue is being discussed by the governor and his surrogates at various stops on his People First Tour across the state this month.
As the name of the tour suggests, Cuomo and the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition of advocates have highlighted a Siena poll last month that showed public support for same-sex marriage at an all-time high of 58% and opposition at a historic low of 36%. A poll this month showed that support had dropped to 54% and opposition had increased to 42%.
Cuomo, however, continues to enjoy high approval ratings at more than 70%, and he is putting his considerable political weight behind marriage equality legislation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the governor has begun to make personal contacts with key lawmakers from the Republican and Democratic parties who could be instrumental in passing the bill in the senate.
The impact of a marriage equality vote on political survival is key to the calculus of lawmakers, particularly Republican senators who have been threatened with losing the endorsement of the influential Conservative Party of New York State over the issue. Last week, the new Siena poll indicated that among same-sex marriage opponents, some 60% would take into account whether their lawmakers diverged from them on the issue, compared to only 49% of marriage equality supporters who said they would consider their lawmaker's stance in deciding whether to vote for them.
Thus far, not a single Republican senator publicly supports the bill, which needs bipartisan support to pass the GOP-controlled chamber. Although senate majority leader Dean Skelos has promised not to block a floor vote on the bill, which the Republican conference has yet to debate, Cuomo and the coalition of advocates do not want to see a vote unless the bill is assured of passage.
Advocates took heart from the Saturday evening appearance by Republican state senator James Alesi at the upstate dinner of the Empire State Pride Agenda in Rochester. Alesi, who represents the area, voted against the marriage equality bill in 2009 and now refuses to reveal his position, but his vote, which occurs at the beginning of the alphabetical roll call, could prove pivotal.
"We're thrilled to welcome elected officials like Sen. Alessi to our events and appreciate his joining our 700 other guests," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Pride Agenda, in a brief telephone interview with The Advocate. "We would hope that by attending, Sen. Alesi and others who have not publicly come out for marriage will see the strength of our community, open their hearts to the stories about our families that were featured that night, and realize that all New Yorkers should be able to marry the person they love."
Last week, state senator Martin Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn, introduced a bill to make void same-sex marriages legalized in other jurisdictions, which have been recognized in New York since 2008. His co-sponsors include deputy senate majority leader Tom Libous and Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Democrat and outspoken gay rights opponent. While the bill has almost no chance of moving, it sent a signal to advocates including New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a major financial contributor to Republican state senators, who lobbied lawmakers in Albany last week.