Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick delivered the keynote address at the annual Empire State Pride Agenda dinner in New York City Thursday evening, urging an audience of prominent LGBT leaders and donors to take up “common cause” with movements for racial and economic equality as their own campaigns increasingly meet with success around the country.
“The question we must ask ourselves now is this,” said Patrick, who leads the first state in the nation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “Will we be there together for the next struggle? Will you join the next fight for freedom and equality, even in another state? More than that, will you join the fight for religious freedom? For racial injustice? For basic fairness in the criminal justice and immigration systems? Against the kind of poverty and inequality that is crushing the urban poor and dispiriting the middle class? Will you make your neighbor’s dreams and struggles your own?”
His speech in Midtown Manhattan marked a departure for the annual event, a popular stop on the political calendar that typically features officials from New York who focus their comments on LGBT rights. Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo headlined the dinner, giving his first major speech to an LGBT audience since his successful push for marriage equality legislation.
Patrick, a top surrogate for President Barack Obama, sounded less fiery than last month, when he urged Democrats to “grow a backbone” at the party’s national convention in Charlotte, but passion still permeated his remarks. He spoke about learning the meaning of “community” as he grew up poor on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s and 60s.
“A community is about seeing your stake in your neighbor’s dreams and struggles as well as your own,” he said. “Why do we push back against small mindedness and misconceptions and hate itself? Because in a community, your struggle is my struggle, and my struggle is yours.”
Compared to his DNC speech, Patrick made only one mention of Mitt Romney by name while he positioned the presidential election as a battle of “two very different visions for our country.” He mentioned his immediate predecessor in the context of the state’s multi-year battle to secure marriage equality after the high court ruling in 2003.
“The waters had not yet calmed when I came to office,” said Patrick, who took office in 2007 amid an effort to put a constitutional amendment backed by Romney on the ballot. The amendment was defeated during Patrick's first year in office, and the following year, lawmakers repealed a 1913 law that prevented Massachusetts from marrying out-of-state couples if their marriages would not be recognized in their home states.
As governor, Romney had invoked the old law, which legal experts say was designed to uphold other states' bans on interracial marriages, to prevent Massachusetts from becoming “the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage,” in his words. Patrick said Thursday the law was “revived, by the way, by Governor Romney and others to frustrate marriage equality.”
Governor Patrick said the shared struggle of community extended to his own family. His youngest daughter, Katherine, came out to her parents a few months after the constitutional amendment effort was defeated in Massachusetts. She remained quiet at the time of the victory, telling her father then that she was proud of how he fought for something that did not affect him.
The governor’s call for “common cause” arrives at a time of significant breakthroughs in the relationship between the LGBT and African-American communities. The NAACP endorsed marriage equality following the announcement from President Barack Obama in May, and leading LGBT advocacy groups reciprocated by backing the NAACP-sponsored march in June against the controversial stop-and-frisk policy of the New York City Police Department.
Now, black voters are the focus of a statewide marriage equality campaign for the first time in Maryland, where African-Americans represent a quarter of voters in the solidly Democratic state that will decide a referendum in November. Patrick spoke with reporters before his speech and said he felt “hopeful” about the campaign, which could mark the first time voters uphold marriage equality on the ballot.
“This is an issue where there’s some heat in some black communities and from some pulpits,” he said. “I always make the point, first of all, as a man of faith, there’s much more emphasis in scripture on love than on the rules around marrying, and surely there is much, much more we can work on together than letting it divide us.”
Patrick, one of a handful of African-American governors in the country's history, said his support for marriage equality was an issue in his first gubernatorial run in 2006. He said pastors from the church where his sister and brother-in-law serve as deacons denounced him from the pulpit as his relatives sat in the church. In the end, he said, “We found our way to each other.”
“The basic idea of social justice and people seeing common cause is something that folks in black communities understand,” he said.
Asked for his thoughts on President Obama’s weak debate performance last week, Patrick said he remained “optimistic.” He offered an anecdote about a Boston merchant who told him the day after the debate, “It’s alright. I’m voting for him anyway.”
“I’m very optimistic. I’m not taking anything for granted and neither is he,” said Patrick of President Obama, who will face Romney again in New York on Tuesday. “On style points, Governor Romney won, but President Obama spoke the truth, and it’s going to be up to not just him, but those of us who support him, to amplify that truth.”
Watch the video of Governor Patrick's speech below. Read more about this year's Empire State Pride Agenda dinner on the next page.
Other speakers at the Pride Agenda dinner included U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn introduced Schumer, who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 but announced his support for marriage equality in 2009, saying, “It’s time.” She credited the influential lawmaker with removing “any belief that being for marriage equality was politically a bad decision” and for establishing that marriage equality is a “core middle class value.”
Schumer in turn praised Quinn, an out lesbian and leading mayoral prospect for 2013, as someone who can appeal to New Yorkers beyond her liberal district on the West Side of Manhattan. His comments received strong applause from the largely LGBT audience estimated to total around 1,000 guests.
“Christine Quinn is an amazing leader. She’s done a great job in the Council, and the best for her is yet to come,” he said.
Schumer mentioned his work to increase the presence of openly LGBT judges on the federal bench, where he recommended J. Paul Oetken and Alison Nathan, both of whom were nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate. Another of his recommendations, Pamela Ki Mai Chen, awaits confirmation.
A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that advanced legislation to repeal DOMA last year, Schumer said he hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down the law in the coming year.
“It’s not only the right side of history,” he said. “It’s the correct interpretation of the United States Constitution.”
The audience also heard from Nathan Schaefer, incoming executive director of the Pride Agenda and former director of public policy at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. He said the organization's near-term priorities included passage of the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, the long delayed transgender rights legislation.
“And let us be clear the immediate journey will lead to full protection from discrimination for everyone, especially transgender New Yorkers, statewide,” he said.