Mayor Bloomberg presented gay marriage in moral terms Thursday in a speech intended to pressure State Senators into voting for a bill this term. Speaking passionately and using blunt language, the Mayor posed a question to all state lawmakers:
"Do you want to be remembered as a leader on civil rights? Or an obstructionist? On matters of freedom and equality, history has not remembered obstructionists kindly."
Mayor Bloomberg wants to see an up-or-down vote on legalizing gay marriage in New York by the end of June, whereas Gov. Cuomo says it's better to wait until a majority 'Yes' vote is ensured.
"New Yorkers have a right to know where their elected officials stand. We deserve a vote not next year, or after the 2012 elections, but in this legislative session," the Mayor said.
Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a powerful lobbying group for gay marriage, said he found the Mayor's speech inspirational but the group is concentrating on getting a successful vote. "No one at the Empire State Pride Agenda is interested in a symbolic vote," he said after the speech.
Gay marriage bills have died three times in the State Senate, but this year some Senators--Republican and Democrat--who previously voted no are calling themselves undecided. Any successful vote would have to include some Republicans, who are in the majority. The Mayor has promised to financially support any Senator in the next election who votes for the bill to legalize same-sex marriage. A lot of money is flowing in Albany as lobbyists on both sides have pledged over a million dollars to advance their agenda for or against the bill.
It appears to be an issue close to the Mayor's heart--in addition to this speech at Cooper Union he spent six hours lobbying for the bill in Albany on May 17. Bloomberg was introduced on Thursday by his niece, Rachel Tiven, who is gay and is the executive director of Immigration Equality, an organization lobbying for the rights of bi-national same-sex immigrant couples, such as the right to sponsor a partner for a green card. The Mayor's strong rhetoric appealed to economic as well as conservative principles.
"Conservatives believe that government should not intrude into people’s personal lives – and it’s just none of government’s business who you love," he said, adding that government should not stand in the way of free markets and contracts between consenting parties.
A majority--58 percent--of New Yorkers support legalizing same-sex marriage, according to the most recent Siena poll. Some opponents say they're against the law on religious grounds, like Democratic State Sen. Ruben Diaz. Under the bill proposed by Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell no religious leader or institution would be required to perform or sanction a same-sex wedding.
Five states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. Mayor Bloomberg said that New York should take the lead on this issue, as Greenwich Village's Stonewall uprising 42 years ago is considered the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.
“In our democracy, near equality is no equality. Government either treats everyone the same, or it doesn’t. And right now, it doesn’t," the Mayor said to applause.