Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
On Anniversary of NY Gay Marriage Vote, GOP Senator Has No Regrets
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
A year ago this week, New York State Senator Jim Alesi, a Republican, made the politically risky move to vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
He was the first in his party to support gay marriage publicly. And in an interview Tuesday, the anniversary of his vote, he said he wouldn't take it back.
"You look over the last few months and say the world has not changed dramatically," Alesi said. "It still turns around 24 hours a day, but lives have changed for the better, those people that now can be married."
Alesi had sided with his party and voted "no" on same-sex marriage when a bill came before the Senate in 2009. He appeared to agonize over his vote at the time. A week before the bill came before the Senate again in 2011, he announced he would vote "yes," becoming the first Republican to support legalization.
Three more Republicans would follow suit, and on July 24, 2011, same-sex marriage became legal in New York with a 33 - 29 vote in the Senate.
Conventional wisdom among the GOP had been that support for gay marriage was political suicide. The state's Conservative Party has called support for same-sex marriage a "deal breaker" for their endorsement, and Republican leadership remained opposed to legalization until the end.
"I received the usual kind of political threats that, you know, We're gonna kill you politically,' etc, etc," Alesi said. "But there were also a lot of people that were just everyday people that I wouldn't have expected to come up to me and say they were going to support me, that they believed it was courageous."
Blowback from more conservative constituencies may have contributed to Alesi's decision not to test the waters in a Republican primary against Assemblyman Sean Hanna, who would run against Alesi in the newly-created 55th Senate district. His political fate aside, Alesi said he remains 100 percent certain he did the right thing.
"For those people that were against it I don't see how anything has changed for them. I can't say the world has gotten worse. I think it should be better for everybody."
Alesi said he attended a same-sex wedding Monday night, the eve of the vote's one-year anniversary. "It was pretty much like every other wedding," he said.