Monday, June 27, 2011

How the New York Marriage Equality Act Got Done

It was backroom deals and rules changes in the State Senate that were brokered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo with legislative leaders and proponents that helped ensure passage of the Marriage Equality Act granting gays the right to marry.

The rules changes helped make sure that the vote passage would occur in time for the 11PM newscasts. It could have backfired in a major way though - as some Democrats who had backed the bill were not able to explain their votes due to time constraints.
Essentially the Senate rules were changed in a backroom agreement before session started and then changed again during the vote to make sure it would be concluded to make the 11 p.m. newscasts.

Sen. Kevin Parker, a long time proponent of same-sex marriage was informed by Senate staff that he would not be able to explain his vote. He was livid. He cursed out the governor and eventually stormed to the podium where Duffy was presiding–a number of other Democratic senators followed him–seemingly to calm him down.

Earlier when Sen. Ruben Diaz tried to lay the marriage bill aside he was ignored. Normal senate procedure allows for any senator to lay a bill aside for debate. It gives legislators a chance to debate the bill then when they vote, they again have the chance to explain their vote. But the rules weren’t the same.

Parker told the Gazette that around 7 or 8 p.m. the Senate Democratic conference met and discussed a deal. “We were informed of he procedure,” said Parker. “Everyone knew Rev. Diaz was going to lay the bill aside but we agreed not to debate the bill after he laid it aside. We would call the role and all be able to explain our votes. We would be given two minutes each.” The Gazette and a number of other sources reported the proposed limited debate even earlier in the week. I was told to expect it by multiple senators earlier yesterday morning.

But that deal is not what happened. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s aide Steve Cohen was on the floor trying to hurry everything along. Parker says that Cohen was trying to, “shut down debate. The cover story was that Dean [Skelos] was upset at Ruben Diaz’s remarks about Republicans and was going to pull the bill if we started speaking. Everyone knows we don’t control Diaz.”

Parker says he was upset most of all because as a minority legislator he has little power. Explaining his vote on issues is at times his only resort. Parker says his district is full of populations who do not support gay marriage and although he was a long time supporter he felt it was important– just as it was for other Senators who were allowed to speak –to explain the thinking behind his vote. Parker was not the only angry Democrat. A number of other legislators were visibly distraught when they were informed they would not be able to speak.

Here's why Cuomo gets credit for the gay marriage bill; he knew how to take advantage of the lay of the land and worked out a deal with Republican strategists and fundraisers to help Republican State Senators who would be amenable to a deal on the gay marriage bill. From the ">New York Times:
But the donors in the room — the billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, joined by the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb — had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views.

Within days, the wealthy Republicans sent back word: They were on board. Each of them cut six-figure checks to the lobbying campaign that eventually totaled more than $1 million.

Steve Cohen, the No. 2 in Mr. Cuomo’s office and a participant in the meeting, began to see a path to victory, telling a colleague, “This might actually happen.”

The story of how same-sex marriage became legal in New York is about shifting public sentiment and individual lawmakers moved by emotional appeals from gay couples who wish to be wed.

But, behind the scenes, it was really about a Republican Party reckoning with a profoundly changing power dynamic, where Wall Street donors and gay-rights advocates demonstrated more might and muscle than a Roman Catholic hierarchy and an ineffective opposition.

And it was about a Democratic governor, himself a Catholic, who used the force of his personality and relentlessly strategic mind to persuade conflicted lawmakers to take a historic leap.

“I can help you,” Mr. Cuomo assured them in dozens of telephone calls and meetings, at times pledging to deploy his record-high popularity across the state to protect them in their districts. “I am more of an asset than the vote will be a liability.”

Over the last several weeks, dozens of lawmakers, strategists and advocates described the closed-door meetings and tactical decisions that led to approval of same-sex marriage in New York, about two years after it was rejected by the Legislature. This account is based on those interviews, most of which were granted on the condition of anonymity to describe conversations that were intended to be confidential.
It's little wonder then that Cuomo was hailed as a conquering hero during this weekend's Gay Pride Parade in New York City; that popularity will translate into votes in November and those who had opposed the gay marriage bill are finding themselves on the wrong side of history in the state.

Despite some claims that they will attempt to get a ballot measure to overturn the Marriage Equality Act by adding a constitutional amendment stating that marriage is between a man and woman, such actions are futile. New York will not turn its back on gay marriage and other states will follow in New York's footsteps.

If they don't, as New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie has indicated (but New Jersey previously adopted a civil union arrangement several years ago), New York will likely see the lion's share of gay marriages as people from the tristate region will flock to New York to get married - and take advantage of the benefits that the new law confers on spouses.

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