Thingish Things

Expect New York Gay Marriage Within 24 Months

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Jan• 05•11

I got a nice note from an old friend last night, a former President of the Log Cabin Republicans. It reminded me to keep an ear open for the gay marriage issue in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address today.

There was just a single mention of the issue in a 48-minute speech about the economy, which leads me to believe that gay marriage will become legal in New York State this year or next.  I’ll explain.

A little more than a year ago, in December 2009, gay marriage legislation went down in flames on the floor of the State Senate, by a vote of 38-24.  It was a surprisingly lopsided tally for two reasons: bills that get voted on in Albany never go down – the votes are always pre-arranged – and no Republicans crossed over to support the bill, although several Republicans, it was rumored, were prepared to do so.

The vote was popularly portrayed as a death knell for the marriage issue in the Empire State, but what it really was was an early sign of Governor Paterson’s profound weakness among legislators.  He was unable to line up enough Senate votes to pass the bill — in a then-Democratic chamber — so the vote ended up not being close.  (No Republican on the fence was willing to risk the wrath of the Conservative Party to cast a failed vote. I’ll come back to this later.)

The most interesting thing about that day, and the few leading up to it, was the palpable silence from New Yorkers on the issue.  There were cries of support from advocates and organized lobbying from opponents, but no one spontaneously marched on Albany.  The vote came and the vote went with nary a public glance.  Everybody was focused on the economy.

That got noticed.

Thirteen months later, attention to fiscal issues is absolute.  Witness Governor Cuomo’s speech today.  It was all about jobs, taxes, and the cost of government.  Nothing about crime.  Nothing about terrorism.  Nothing on the litany of issues of which State of the State speeches are typically constructed.  Just 17 words on gay marriage, an issue that started wildfires three years ago.

Governor Cuomo didn’t need to address these issues.  Not enough people want to hear about them right now.  The singular order of the day is: “How can you get us out of this mess?”

All the pressure that is coming to bear in the next 24-months, when New York will face a combined budget deficit of at least $17 billion, will be on the Democrats in the New York State Legislature – the union Democrats, which includes, well, pretty much all of them at this point.

But, as entrenched as they are, and as intractable as they seem, they are in an unenviable position, wedged tightly between that proverbial rock and a hard place.

On one side they face massive public pressure to cut government spending, personified in Andrew Cuomo and buoyed by virtually every editorial board in the state.  On the other they face unyielding union and “progressive” leaders, who want to protect what they have and who have heretofore proven to be the most powerful force in the state. (Democrats in safe districts fear union leader far more than they fear voters. And rightly so. Ask former State Senator Craig Johnson and former Congressman Michael McMahon.)

Something has to give.  And that’s where I think gay marriage comes in.

As distasteful as it may sound to proponents and opponents of a such a serious and emotional issue, gay marriage is a negotiating chip, and it’s going to have to be used to get allowances out of the Democrats.  If they are going to have to wrestle concessions out of the Teacher’s Union or health care workers or the Über left wing Working Families Party, they are going to have to deliver something to the “progressives” in exchange.  Gay marriage – like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell for President Obama – is a big, big prize. And a fiscally neutral one. It could very well become the trade-off for spending reform.

That will require the Republican Senate to allow a vote, however.

I bet they will.

The Republicans need fiscal victories badly – the very life of the Republican Majority depends upon it – and allowing another vote on gay marriage won’t cost them a lot with every day voters.  And I would bet that the five or six Republican votes needed to pass Gay marriage would materialize this time if it resulted in significant budget cuts.

The Conservative Party will not be happy about it – it leads the opposition to Gay marriage – but there is not the same kind of fire on this issue among New York Republicans as there is among New York Conservatives.    (I would argue that gay marriage is an issue on which the two parties would logically diverge – with the Republicans historically serving as the Party of equal rights under the law, and the Conservatives serving as the guardians of our traditions and institutions.)

Hearing so little about gay marriage today convinced me. Expect to see it law in New York within 24 months.

It was nice to hear from you, Chris Taylor.

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  1. liz feld says:

    Brilliantly written and exactly right.

  2. […] marriage looked dead in New York less than a year and a half ago. The bill faced resounding defeat, 24-38, in December 2009, after […]

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