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NYC Mayor Speaks to Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 27, 2011

A veritable Pride parade of New Yorkers has spoken up and spoken out for marriage equality in the state, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a strong supporter of legal parity for gay and lesbian families. But one of the luminaries who has lent his voice in the past to the issue spoke once more on May 26: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"The New York City mayor has been a vocal supporter of legalizing same-sex marriage," the Associated Press reported in advance of the speech. "He visited Albany earlier this month to lobby state lawmakers who are considering the issue. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is gay, accompanied him."

Calling Bloomberg's speech "uncharacteristically forceful and sweeping," the New York Times reported in a May 26 article that the mayor had declared "near equality is no equality," and exhorted the state's lawmakers to "lead the American journey forward" by granting marriage rights to all New Yorkers.

Bloomberg recalled how New Yorkers struck the first blow in the modern civil rights movement when gays, long oppressed by the law and society, rose up outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in 1969, and suggested that the time for an equally important step forward had arrived.

"[I can] see the pain that the status quo is causing--and I cannot defend it," Bloomberg said. "We are the freest city in the freest country in the world--but freedom is not frozen in time."

The Times noted that Bloomberg's openly gay niece Rachel Tiven introduced him to the audience at Cooper Union, a Manhattan venue that the article noted had been established by a prominent abolitionist during the slavery era.

"It was an unusually personal address from a mayor known for dispassionate number crunching and policy analysis," the Times noted, "In his speech, he said that he had grown tired of trying to explain to gay friends, relatives, and staff members why the government is denying them the right to wed."

"I cannot tell them that marriage is not for them," Bloomberg told his listeners. The mayor has, however, spoken out in support of marriage equality a number of times recently, the article said. Among other things, Bloomberg appeared in one of the "New Yorkers for Marriage Equality" videos that the Human Rights Campaign produces. The videos have featured a number of leaders, performers, and athletes.

In his Cooper Union speech, Bloomberg called for state lawmakers to address the issue by voting on it before the end of the current session in June. The New York State Assembly has passed legislation to grant marriage rights to same-sex families on numerous occasions, whereas the State Senate has voted on the issue only once, in late 2009, when lawmakers in that chamber--including some Democrats who had earlier voiced support for the marriage equality--scuttled the measure.

Gov. Cuomo has called for marriage equality this year, but modified that position in the face of a coordinated counter-response by anti-gay groups, including the National Organization for Marriage, which has vowed to fund opponents of any Republican New York state legislators who vote for a marriage equality bill. Cuomo now saw that he will not pursue a vote on the matter until he can be confident that it would have the support needed to pass.

Cuomo, too, has contributed a video to the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality series.

Moreover, anti-gay lawmakers have sought to sew up a preemptive legal victory by closing a loophole that allows gay and lesbian families to marry elsewhere and then return to, or move to, New York, which has a policy of honoring same-sex marriages granted elsewhere.

But there are signs that lawmakers--some of them, at least--may be prepared to grant same-sex families marriage parity, at least on the state level. (Though same-sex couples may legally marry in five states currently, the anti-gay 1996 "Defense of Marriage" Act (DOMA) denies them any federal recognition.)

"In his speech, Mr. Bloomberg seemed at times to be speaking directly to the handful of lawmakers, most of them Republican state senators, whose vote will prove decisive on the issue this legislative session," the New York Times article said.

One GOP state legislator who pro-marriage advocates hope may be considering a yes vote on a marriage bill is State Sen. Jim Alesi, who recently attended a function hosted by GLBT advocacy group Empire State Pride Agenda. In 2009, no Republicans voted for marriage in the state senate, but pro-marriage activists hope to see that change.

"On matters of freedom and equality, history has not remembered obstructionists kindly," Bloomberg recalled. "Not on abolition. Not on women's suffrage. Not on workers' rights. Not on civil rights. And it will be no different on marriage rights."

Next: Marriage Means Personal Freedoms, Responsibilities


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