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Same-Sex-Marriage Follies


Lynch believed she needed to clinch at least 29 Democratic votes, with the assumption that there were at least two or three Republicans she could persuade to come along. It was going to be hard going convincing even the sympathetic ones that it was in their interest to join up. Long Island GOP senator John Flanagan was touched by Sayward’s plea—“She’s a classy lady. When I listen to someone like her, it really makes me think”—but, in mid-May, he wasn’t sure he could go along with more than civil unions. “I think marriage should be between a man and a woman. That’s the way I grew up.”

Meanwhile, an organized opposition was taking root. Starting in mid-May, the National Organization for Marriage, founded by pundit Maggie Gallagher, spent $600,000 on, among other things, more than 2 million robo-calls, primarily to Republicans and independents. “The amount of political pressure it takes the Legislature to do something is a lot more than getting it to do nothing,” she said. “I have to generate enough public pressure to get politicians to do nothing. How hard should that be?” Near the end of that month, a poll came out showing a slight drop in support for gay marriage; still, half of New Yorkers approved.

The battle was joined. Lynch approved ad campaigns upstate. One featured a mother talking over plaintive piano about her wish for her son to have the same rights as his sister: “Luke has goals of settling down with someone, and I want him to be able to do that.” The ads, produced by Josh Isay and Jennifer Cunningham, weren’t intended to change minds but to give lawmakers cover. The polling data showed that voters responded better to gentler messages that depicted families instead of same-sex couples.

It was a departure from the losing anti–Proposition 8 campaign in California, which had tried to shame voters with ads that featured Mormon missionaries ransacking the home of a gay couple, tearing up their marriage license. Lynch was also careful to avoid talking about it as “civil rights,” since many black lawmakers found that to be apples and oranges. They also used the phrase “civil marriage” to distinguish state recognition from a religious sacrament.

The advocates thought they had all spring to wage a stealth campaign. Then Paterson decided it needed to happen— immediately.

While all this was going on in public, Lynch and the Pride Agenda were wondering what Smith was up to. “He never lobbied anybody, and when you want something from people, you have to ask,” says one sponsor on the bill.

In the Assembly, O’Donnell had cajoled, needled, commiserated, reasoned, flirted, and swelled with conviction. But with Smith—apparently not wanting to upset his tenuous hold on power—not working the room, that left Duane. But he wasn’t as temperamentally suited to the task.

In his decade as a senator, Duane has matured into the role of elder gay statesmen. But he wasn’t chummy with many colleagues. “The culture of the Legislature—I can’t engage in it. It’s not for me,” he said.

Still, he worked hard. He put in a call to the Washington-based gay-rights group the Human Rights Campaign and asked them to hire Steven Boggess, a lobbyist who was Bruno’s longtime chief of staff. (Bruno, who’d left the Senate, declared his support for gay marriage earlier this month.) In late May, Duane said, “I don’t have a lot of noes. I have a lot of I-don’t-think-I-cans. I know people who really haven’t made up their minds, and they’re struggling with it.” But Duane, a Chelsea liberal, wasn’t going to have much effect on Senators Onorato or Hassell-Thompson or Shirley Huntley—71, black, and from Queens.

To supplement Duane’s efforts, O’Donnell went ahead with his idea of a “buddy system,” in which Assembly members would be paired with resistant senators in their districts. Meanwhile, Lynch targeted four Democrats she felt could be persuaded intellectually, by appealing to their sense of political calculus: David Valesky from Syracuse, North Country dairy farmer Darrel Aubertine, Bill Stachowski from Buffalo, and Foley, who’d been helped by the Gill funds. All four are Catholic and expressed religious reservations about gay marriage and were worried how it would play in their districts. The theory was that they needed three of those four to win.

Then they unleashed the celebrities: Maya Angelou, Cynthia Nixon, and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whose son is openly gay, made calls to legislators. (Huntley told the Times she was shocked to hear from Angelou but wouldn’t back the bill even for “a million dollars, tax free.”) Kirsten Gillibrand was asked to talk to Aubertine and Valesky. Mayor Bloomberg volunteered to come to Albany and work over the Republicans, but Michael Avella, a lobbyist hired by the Log Cabin Republicans, persuaded him to stick to the phone. Christine Quinn, the lesbian City Council speaker, lobbied fellow Irish Catholic Flanagan (“They’ve said we’ll do everything we can to help you,” he says. “They haven’t said we’re going to get you if you don’t support it.”) After meeting with Smith, Quinn reported that “he’s really going to try to do it.”

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