Queens United, Almost, for Marriage Equality

Michael Gianaris

June 09, 2011

Senator Gianaris spoke to the Advocate about same-sex marriage following yesterday's rally advocationg for the passage of same-sex marriage.

A substantial contingent of elected officials, labor leaders, and other advocates hosted a press conference Wednesday to show support for marriage equality in Queens, N.Y., a borough represented by two undecided state senators key to passage of the legislation.

The event, which brought together federal, state, and local leaders, signaled the start of the final, intensified push for marriage equality as the New York legislature prepares to adjourn June 20. With just six calendar days remaining in the session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the coalition of LGBT advocacy groups, New Yorkers United for Marriage, and others are working to secure the votes of at least six undecided lawmakers in the senate, where the bill failed in a 24 to 38 vote in 2009.

Two of those senators, Shirley Huntley and Joseph Addabbo, both Democrats who voted no in 2009 but now take an undeclared position, were the unnamed but intended audience for many of the more than 20 speakers at Queens Borough Hall on a sweltering early afternoon in New York City.

“It’s about time that we get back on track, back on being, if not first, maybe being the strongest in terms of our advocacy for equal justice under the law,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley. “That’s what this is about. Equal justice under the law.”

By positioning marriage equality as long overdue in New York, historically in the forefront of the women’s, labor, and LGBT rights movements, Crowley echoed arguments made by Cuomo and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Both the governor and mayor have spoken in their advocacy about the state’s need to live up to its trailblazing reputation.

Since 2008, Crowley has served as chair of the powerful Queens County Democratic organization, which endorses candidates for office. During his tenure, the borough has moved from having five of its seven state senators vote against marriage equality in 2009 to having five senators in support and two undecided now.

New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who clinched her leadership position in 2006 with the backing of the late Queens County Democratic leader Thomas Manton, noted the rapid change in the demographically diverse borough.

“When we pass marriage, and I know we will, and I know we will do it with the vast if not unanimous support of the Queens County delegation in both parts of our legislature. We will do it because we as New Yorkers believe in the best of us,” she said.

Quinn, who has made weekly lobbying trips to Albany this year, seemed to make a personalized appeal to the undecided senators.

“It is hard to say publicly, ‘I made a mistake,’” she said “But it is the greatest gift you can give as a legislator to say, ‘I learned. I grew. I expanded.’ And we need to send a message to those legislators that we will never forget that they did the thing that was harder than just continuing to vote yes or continuing to vote no, and to those folks we will be even more grateful.”

Two Queens senators who spoke, Michael Gianaris and Jose Peralta, were elected in 2010 and replaced two Democrats, George Onorato and Hiram Monserrate, who had voted against marriage. While Onorato retired, Monserrate was successfully targeted by gay advocacy groups for his vote, as was Frank Padavan, a Queens Republican replaced by Tony Avella, a Democrat who supports marriage equality. With senators Toby Ann Stavisky and Malcolm Smith in favor, that leaves Huntley and Addabbo as the only unknowns in the borough's Senate delegation.

“I know that before the end of session, Senator Gianaris and I will push to make sure that Queens has seven, and it’s going to be a great day to know that we’re going to be able to pass marriage,” said Peralta. “We may not have been number 1, we may not have been first, but it’s going to be a great day.”

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