Wednesday afternoon, into the evening, the 150-member New York State Assembly debated Governor Cuomo’s marriage equality bill. As expected, the bill passed, 80-63, just after 9:00 PM. And as expected, opponents cited God, religion, their desire to preserve traditional marriage as reasons for voting against equality, while supporters of the bill delivered strong responses to those who believe in traditional marriage.
The New York Senate has yet to decide if or when it will vote on the bill too. The previous same-sex marriage bill passed the Assembly on May 12, 2009, by a much wider margin, 89-52, but many seats have changed since. The Senate may vote on Friday. Governor Cuomo, who proposed the bill and has lobbied behind the scenes heavily, according to reports, would of course sign it into law.
In a surprising turn, Nick Perry (D), who voted three times before against marriage equality, said he spoke to his constituents and that, “While they believe in traditional marriage, the freedom to live the life you choose to make you happy is a right everyone should enjoy.” Saying, “It was sacrilegious to think that the world was round,” Perry voted for the bill, to one of the rare rounds of applause, including a large smile from Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“Marriage has been defined since the beginning of this country,” Danny O’Donnell (D), who has now sponsored four marriage equality bills, reminded his fellow Assemblymen. “This is the body that has always done that.”
“A Senator in the House across who came out and said, ‘I’m going to vote for this,’ has been the subject of death threats, and yet, I listen to you complain that somebody called you names? Somebody called you names? Have you ever been the subject of a gay-bashing?,” O’Donnell (photo, above,) asked. He reminded the Assembly that “Under God was added to our pledge of allegiance in the ’50s, in the McCarthy era.”
Harry Bronson (D) the Assembly’s first openly-gay member not from New York City, told the chamber that not having the right to marry makes same-sex relationships less stable.
Republican Donald Miller, who detailed how Britain’s Alan Touring, “who invented the computer,” was a “homosexual,” and committed suicide two years after serving time for the crime of being gay. Miller told the chamber “we have done many wrong things,” and then said, in a true twist of logic, that passing this marriage equality bill was one of those “wrong things.”
Republican Nancy Calhoun stated that “We have the obligation to give equality in all ways,” but that she would vote against the bill, in part, “because we, the Republicans, cannot bring bills to the floor… this is not equality.” The Republicans are currently the minority in the Assembly.
“I say to you I cannot in this tenor support taking away marriage, it has a separate importance and it has to do with a man and a woman,” Calhoun stated, adding, “what we are doing today is not right. We are changing an institution of marriage. We are going to change it from what it was intended, a man and a woman.”
Democrat Naomi Rivera, who represents The Bronx, in perhaps one of the most passionate statements, said, she received 1188 emails, 936 phone calls, and over 300 letters, “asking me to vote against this bill. I happen to live in the heart of the district of the only Democratic Senator who will be voting against this bill.”
“The last time I voted, and I have always voted in support of marriage equality, was on the cusp of a re-election, and I was very concerned.”
“I had appealed to the LGBT community, and, (Rivera, pausing,) not a check, not a body, and I felt alone.”
Rivera detailed her conversations with her father, her mother — a Jehovah’s witness — and her young son. Rivera’s father is New York Assemblyman Jose Rivera, and her brother is New York City Councilman Joel Rivera.
“What is the message that I’m going to give to my son about love, religion, marriage?”
“I’ve been given the responsibility to provide leadership in my community. I’ve been given the responsibility to help pave the way for the future generation for my son. I want him to remember that he should always take a stand, and it is to stand up for justice and equality for all,” Rivera said.
“I had felt alone, but I don’t feel alone.” Rivera voted for marriage equality.
Democrat Richard Gottfried, the longest-serving member of the Assembly, stood and imitated those voting against the bill, saying, “Do not presume that your kind is fit to join our club, but don’t try to join our cliub. Our club is too important for your kind to join.”
“It is hard to imagine a more profoundly insulting and degrading and disrespectful statement to make than to say ‘your kind is not fit to join the institution of marriage,’ that I think we all recognize as a fundamental human right.” The Assemblyman, who has served 40 years, spoke of strong families, and that marriage strengthens families, and therefore marriage equality “helps to build a stronger New York.”
Democrat Micah Kellner told the chamber that when he proposed, he immediately told his fiance that they would have to wait until marriage equality was legal in New York.
Dean Murray (R), voting no, said, “I’m a conservative I’m extremely proud of that.” ”If same-sex marriage does not pass tonight I don’t think it’s going to mean… that anyone’s love will be lessened.” Murray claimed that supporting only traditional marriage does not make him a bigot nor does it make him less tolerant.
Taking a false swipe at President Obama, Steve McLaughlin said, “I don’t believe I’m a bigot, it doesn’t make me a bigot, it makes me a traditional marriter.” McLaughlin told the chamber, falsely, that Obama changed his mind on the constitutionality of DOMA. “There’s no push for gay marriage in Britain,” McLaughlin falsely claimed, citing Britain’s extension of some domestic partnership benefits.
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