There were a lot of images that I’ll always remember from this last weekend: the sight of hundreds of people with their arms in the air singing “Empire State of Mind” outside of the Stonewall Inn on Friday night, minutes after New York’s Marriage Equality Act was signed into law. Peering with my best friends out a window on Christopher Street at the tenth parade float to go by to gyrate ecstatically to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.” But the one that I think will have the most staying power was the image of Governor Andrew Cuomo at the front of that parade, marching alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and his girlfriend, Sandra Lee.
Among the thousands and thousands of scantily clad, musclebound men in the Gay Pride March, the blazer-clad Cuomo somehow projected the image of an alpha male. It might have been his company — the newt-ish technocrat Bloomerg on one side, and the bodacious Lee on the other. The Food Network star had dressed the part of the bombshell girlfriend; she was wearing a white sundress that accentuated her impressive figure, and letting her lush blonde hair fall down demurely over one shoulder.
In the picture, Cuomo also has a rainbow flag tucked into his front blazer pocket, a defiant further gesture of his masculine confidence. First of all, there’s no doubt that if Cuomo runs for president, that will be the picture his social conservative opponents trot out over and over. He’s practically daring them to do it, or to go even further. Straight men who have endorsed marriage equality have a history of having questions over their sexuality follow soon after. The ultragroomed Gavin Newsom ran into them shortly after he started (illegally) marrying same sex couples in his role as mayor of San Francisco. Fashion-forward hockey player Sean Avery, too, has faced gay rumors over his support of gay causes for years now.
Cuomo doesn’t seem to be worried about that. Maybe it’s his rough-and-tumble Queens accent. Maybe it’s the girlfriend. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s credited with crafting the off-the-books campaign slogan “Cuomo, Not the Homo” back in 1977. Maybe it’s just that we’ve moved past that tired old maneuver (though I doubt it).
Or maybe it’s that he knows his handling of the state legislature, while often held behind closed doors, comes across as ballsy. He’s not a reckless steamroller like Eliot Spitzer, but he is a leader. And while national politicians like Barack Obama have been acting wishy-washy and obeisant-to-all on the issue of gay rights, Cuomo has behaved as a tough guy with convictions.
Of course, toughness doesn’t exclusively belong to heterosexual men, and Cuomo doesn’t deserve all the credit for passing same-sex marriage — dozens of people, straight, gay, male, and female share it. But if Cuomo runs in 2016, he’ll be bringing a wholly new sexual identity to the national political scene. That is: the straight man with the rainbow flag in his pocket, with all the gay people marching behind him.