An estimated two million people converged on Manhattan Sunday for the New York City gay Pride march, an annual event that took on an “extra special” meaning, in the words of the day’s star attraction, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the marriage equality bill into law Friday. Same-sex couples from anywhere will be able to marry in New York beginning on July 24.
The bill passed the Senate Friday by a vote of 33 to 29, including support from four Republicans. As the sixth and most populous state with marriage equality, and the first where a bill passed a Republican-controlled legislative body, New York is widely anticipated to energize the movement nationwide, a potential impact the governor highlighted in remarks prior to the march.
"I believe New York has sent a message to this nation loud and clear: It is time for marriage equality all across the country,” said Cuomo in Midtown before embarking on the nearly two-mile route down Fifth Avenue and into the West Village, where crowds along the way chanted his last name, sometimes at deafening volume. An emcee introduced him as “the man who just signed marriage into law,” while the Lady Gaga soundtrack yielded to a rendition of “Here Comes the Bride” as the march reached Christopher Street, the location of the Stonewall Inn, regarded as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.
The governor marched with elected officials including Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, and Sen. Tom Duane and Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell, the two gay sponsors of the bill in the state legislature. They were joined by members of the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition, which carried out fieldwork, communications, and lobbying for the $2 million campaign this year. The coalition included the Human Rights Campaign, Empire State Pride Agenda, Log Cabin Republicans, Marriage Equality New York, and Freedom to Marry.
Marchers and spectators on the sunny afternoon held signs that read “Thank You, Governor!” and “Promise Kept,” a reference to his campaign pledge last year to pass a marriage equality bill. The popular Democrat made the bill one of his three priorities this legislative session, and he personally lobbied lawmakers who represent districts where the governor enjoys a high approval rating among voters.
“It’s one thing for me to go up to the state capital as a lesbian and ask for the rights that I deserve,” said Speaker Christine Quinn, who also lobbied senators in Albany. “It’s quite another thing for a heterosexual governor to make this one of his top three issues. And you could see that in people’s faces, that somebody who isn’t a member of our community put it all on the line for our community. That is really the definition of leadership and love, to do something for people whose community you aren’t a member of, who you will never meet, and to risk it all in a political sense, to make their lives better. That’s quite something.”
Joined by longtime girlfriend Sandra Lee, whose brother is gay, the governor appeared to delight in the day. A former attorney general and veteran of Pride marches, he described the latest experience as “electric” in comments to reporters afterward, when he continued to talk about the potential for New York to open a national conversation and reclaim its reputation for progressive social legislation.
“I think you’re going to see this message resonate all across the country now,” he said. “If New York can do it, it’s OK for every other place to do it. If New York did it, every other place is now going to be posed with the question, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Site of the Stonewall uprising and home to the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements, New York also is identified with moderate Republicans like the late Nelson Rockefeller. Republican donors with Wall Street ties contributed more than half the money raised to win marriage equality in New York this year, and coming battles will likely indicate whether the victory is unique to local conditions or can be replicated.
On Sunday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Republican in a state with a Democratic legislature, appeared on Meet the Press and said he was “not a fan” of same-sex marriage. He said his state, which borders New York, would continue with civil unions.
Asked how he thought New York could influence other places, Cuomo said, “I think the power of our example is going to be instructive to other states.”
Cuomo did not respond to a question about leadership from President Barack Obama, who appeared before gay Democrats at a high-dollar fund-raiser in Manhattan Thursday and stopped short of endorsing marriage equality. The president said the state-level debate, then still unfolding in New York, represented “exactly what democracies are supposed to do.”
However, Cuomo said he had no plans to travel the country to advocate for marriage equality. One sign along the march route read “Homo for Cuomo 2016,” but the governor, who has been mentioned as a prospective presidential candidate, deferred to his tasks in New York.
“I have a lot of work to do as governor,” he said. “I’m going to stay right here.”
Former governor David Paterson, who tried but failed to pass marriage equality in the state Senate in 2009, also marched Sunday. He predicted New York would inspire more state victories before President Obama would express his support.
“I don’t really know what presidents and presidential candidates can do when you have six states out of 50 that have ratified this,” he said. “The great movements in this country have not come from the federal level. They have come from the states. So I think what happened here in New York is a catalyst to start working on Pennsylvania, start working on Ohio, start working on these other states so that you build a groundswell. Then I think you’ll see a response from national leadership.”
Cuomo has credited his predecessor with laying the groundwork for the marriage equality win, but Paterson insisted the victory was entirely Cuomo’s. He acknowledged this year’s campaign for its top-down management, discipline, and bipartisanship, in contrast to a sometimes fractious effort two years ago in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“He ran the whole process through his office, and that was nothing short of brilliant,” said Paterson about Cuomo.
Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, served as grand marshals of the 42nd annual Pride march, in addition to the Reverend Pat Bumgardner of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York and the Imperial Court of New York.