The Politics of One Gay Marriage

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Christine Quinn is the early favorite in the 2013 mayor’s race, so her State of the City speech this week drew extra media scrutiny. But that will be dwarfed by the attention paid to the next big event in the City Council speaker’s life. “The wedding,” groans a strategist for a mayoral rival. “The Times will do a front-page story about her shopping for dresses. The other papers will write about the guest list, the honeymoon. It will be huge, and there’s nothing we can do to compete with it.”

But Quinn’s wedding, to corporate lawyer Kim Catullo, will be a gift only if she finds the right balance between the intensely personal and the inescapably political. In contrast to one of her 2013 opponents, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer—who two years ago milked his (heterosexual) wedding for publicity by holding it in Connecticut to protest New York’s ban on gay marriage—Quinn’s challenge is to keep hers from looking like a campaign rally, while recognizing that whatever she and Catullo choose will take on electoral meaning.

Matrimonial decisions that are stressful for any intendeds are uniquely freighted for Quinn. Should the ceremony be civil or religious? Should the event be small and family-only, or a blowout filled with influential members of the political class, many of whom happen to be Quinn’s friends? (When assembly­man Danny O’Donnell, the primary legislative sponsor of the state’s gay marriage bill, was married in January, the 400-person guest list included Governor Andrew ­Cuomo.) The trickiest choice, in purely political terms, is timing. “You certainly can’t do it in 2013,” a Democratic strategist says. “But don’t do it so close to the presidential [election] that the coverage gets lost. I’d say right after the city budget is finished in June, but before the Democratic convention. So July 2012.” Another Democratic consultant argues just as emphatically for waiting until next year: “The political class would find it blatant and crass, but voters aren’t going to be paying attention until five or six months out. So get the publicity bounce with voters closer to the election.”

Adding to the pressure is the larger cultural wave Quinn is riding. Washington is about to become the seventh state to legalize gay marriage, and California has moved closer to rejoining the club thanks to a federal appeals-court ruling against Prop 8. New York changed its law last year, of course, with Quinn a significant player in the effort; much of the gay political machinery that came together for that fight will back her mayoral campaign. “The ability to elect the first woman and the first openly gay mayor of New York City is going to be a national cause,” says Human Rights Campaign’s Brian Ellner.“It’s an instance where you have both substance and symbolism, and that will create enormous excitement.”

On most issues Quinn is hypercalculating. When it comes to her marriage, though, associates insist that she’s weighing the options without regard to her career. “Chris and Kim’s wedding is a celebration of a decade of love and commitment,” Quinn strategist Josh Isay says. “This is personal, not political.” Separating the two completely is impossible, but Catullo’s desire to hold onto some privacy weighs heavily in favor of a trip down the aisle before the campaign is in full-gear—and Quinn agrees. The bonus is that doing what’s best for them as a couple could also be best for her candidacy. “Save the Date” announcements are about to go out, for a ceremony in 2012.

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The Politics of One Gay Marriage