Activists debate marriage, Prop 8 fallout in New York
With anger over Proposition 8’s passage still fresh, a leading gay activist predicted marriage for same-sex couples, civil unions and other forms of relationship recognition will be a reality across New England and in New Jersey, New York and more than 20 other states in five years.
Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, made the prediction at a forum co-sponsored by the HRC and Marriage Equality New York at the LGBT Community Center in lower Manhattan on Nov. 24. Rouse, the former head of MassEquality, stressed the movement’s strategy remains largely focused at the state level.
"We’re moving forward state by state," he said.
The HRC continues to push for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the extension of benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. President-elect Barack Obama supports both measures, but Rouse tried to manage expectations of the incoming administration and Congress.
"The federal government is very, very slow to act," he said. "It’s going to take some time."
While the aftermath of Prop 8 continues to dominate the movement, New Jersey and New York remain poised to become the next marriage battleground states.
Democrats gained control of the New York State Senate on Election Day. The Assembly passed a marriage bill in June 2007. And Gov. David Paterson remains a steadfast supporter of nuptials for gays and lesbians.
"It was good for New York on election night," Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle said.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith [D-Queens], who is widely expected to become the next Senate Majority Leader, also supports marriage for same-sex couples, but state Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., [D-Bronx] and two fellow Democrats local media has dubbed "the Gang of Three" have threatened to oppose his probable election based, in part, on his support of gay and lesbian nuptials. Openly gay state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Manhattan] downplayed this political posturing.
"I’m not worried about the "Gang of Three,"" he said. "New York is blue, blue, blue."
It appears Diaz may back down from his threat to oppose Smith’s election, but some in the audience remain angry at what they described as an ineffective campaign against Prop 8. Queens activist Jon Winkleman pointed to a lack of gays and lesbians in anti-Prop 8 ads and an overall "failed strategy from the 1970s" as he blasted the HRC for the role he contends the lobbying group played.
"I want an organization to learn by its mistakes," he opined.
Rouse appeared to subtly shift blame onto No on 8 organizers.
"We are also very upset with what happened with the campaign," he said.
Activist Jeff Campagna, who organized more than 3,000 people to call Diaz’s office and urge him to back Smith, said he only realized the campaign was in trouble less than six weeks before Election Day after a conversation with a leading national gay activist. Rouse further described "knock out, drag out fights behind closed doors" with No on 8 leaders, but he stressed the HRC allowed them to take the lead.
"We have to respect the leaders of the campaign," he said. "We can’t break ranks even if we want to."
New York activist Ann Northrop was quick to applaud Rouse’s work within the movement-even as she blasted the HRC for supporting a non-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other controversial positions. She further praised those who took part in Join the Impact protests against Prop 8 across the country. Northrop cautioned, however, against additional forums.
"We have to continue the call to street action, and this is not it," she said.