New York activists, politicians brush aside NOM threats

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday November 12, 2009

As New Yorkers prepare for the prospect of yet another potential vote on a bill that would extend marriage to same-sex couples, activists and politicians alike have apparently brushed aside the National Organization for Marriage's threat earlier this week to fund primary challenges against any Republican who supports the proposed legislation.

Brian Brown, executive director of NOM, specifically evoked state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava [R-Gouverneur] and her failed campaign to represent New York's 23rd Congressional District on Capitol Hill, in a statement his organization released ahead of the state Senate's special legislative session on Tuesday.

"There is no Republican Senate district in New York where the majority of people support gay marriage; Maine has made that very clear," he said. "The GOP should learn from Dede Scozzafava's experience: voting for gay marriage does not pay."

Scozzafava, Assemblymembers Teresa Sayward [R-Willsboro] and Joel Miller [R-Poughkeepsie] are among the handful of Republicans who supported the marriage bill in the state Assembly in both 2007 and earlier this year. Openly gay state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Manhattan] brushed aside NOM's threat in an interview with EDGE yesterday afternoon.

"I'm not overly concerned about that organization," he said. "I don't think their interference in New York will be very welcome by New Yorkers generally. There's not really much of a concern."

Duane conceded opposition to marriage for gays and lesbians remains. Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, stressed on his organization's blog, however, he feels politicians who back marriage for same-sex couples continue to face less backlash from their constituents.

"I'm not overly concerned about that organization. I don't think their interference in New York will be very welcome by New Yorkers generally."

"For years and years now, legislators who vote for the freedom to marry have been re-elected," Wolfson said.

Others marriage activists readily agreed.

"When Scozzafava first cast her vote for marriage equality, some predicted her political demise since she represents a conservative upstate district," Michael Sabatino said. "Instead, she ran unopposed for re-election in 2008 because, clearly, no one thought she was vulnerable enough in her district to unseat."

Neither the Empire State Pride Agenda or Log Cabin Republicans immediately returned EDGE's requests for comment, but lawmakers adjourned their special session without a marriage vote.

The Daily News reported the passage of Maine's marriage referendum and other Election Day results may have spooked Republicans who may have considered supporting the bill. Governor David Paterson announced at a press conference Tuesday night the state Senate will vote on the marriage bill before the end of the year.

Duane said he remains optimistic marriage for gays and lesbians could finally become a reality in the Empire State.

"The support has only increased in New York State overtime; whether it's the number of votes [or] polling of voters," he said. "Virtually any way, support for marriage equality has increased."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.