Paterson’s Gay-Marriage Gamble

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Photo: Getty Images

On Thursday, Governor Paterson will introduce a bill to the state legislature to legalize marriage between members of the same sex. He's been making noises for a week or so on this topic, despite the fact that State Senate Democrats warn they don't have all of the votes in place to guarantee the vote will pass. Paterson himself has even acknowledged this. Spurred by gay-marriage victories in Iowa and Vermont, Paterson apparently hopes that by making a statement of support, the state won't fall behind the vanguard on civil rights. Also, many analysts suspect, he's hoping that this take-charge, hold-legislators-accountable approach will help his approval numbers. It's a big gamble, and not just on his own political future. It's also a gamble on the hopes and futures of thousands of gay couples across the state.

Paterson's introduction of the bill to the legislature doesn't mean it will soon go for a vote. Even though it has enough support in the State Assembly to easily pass, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has said he won't put a bill on the issue on the floor unless he knows all the votes are there. And gay activists, who are aggressively pushing to score more supporters from both parties, privately believe the bill isn't totally doomed. Now that Chuck Schumer is onboard for marriage equality, all state Democrats have received the message loud and clear that opposing it is no longer a tolerable position. But even though Chuck controls so much power (and money) in the state party, Dem opponents like Ruben Diaz Sr., Pedro Espada, and Carl Kruger aren't going to turn around in a month. It is likely they never will, in fact, and it might take their ouster to move forward on this front.

David Paterson hasn't been able to get the votes necessary to pass a gay-marriage bill, even though it was one of his first stated goals when he became governor. If the votes come now, it will be from party pressure (which, with his numbers, Paterson isn't in a position to exert) and through the work of gay lobbyists. By putting the bill before the legislature before supporters are confident it will pass, he's pulling the rug out from under them. If the bill fails, or languishes on the Senate floor, they'll be set back another year, and a public signal will be sent that the state is not ready. If it passes, it will be as a result of their hard work, and he'll get the credit.

It would be spectacular if marriage equality passed in New York this year, and it would save us from further embarrassment falling behind other states on this front of progress. It would probably be good for Paterson's political future, too, as gays may be one of the only faithful constituencies he has left. But the latter reason is not a good enough reason to jump-start the process before it's ready. Sure, the system in Albany stinks, but it's the only one we've got. It strikes us that making a statement about progress is usually a good thing, but not when it could come at the cost of the actual progress itself.

Paterson Will Introduce Same-Sex Marriage Bill [City Room/NYT]