NEW YORK (AP) - Gov. David Paterson introduced a bill Thursday
to legalize same-sex marriage in New York, comparing the effort to
the fight for the abolition of slavery.
Paterson, whose job approval rating has plunged below 30
percent, is making a political gamble that he can ride the momentum
of other states that have recently allowed the practice, and it's
unclear how the legislation will play in New York.
The proposal is the same bill the Democratic-controlled state
Assembly passed in 2007 before it died in the Senate, where the
Republican majority kept it from going to a vote. Democrats now
control the Senate, but opponents are vowing to make sure this one
fails, as well. Some Democrats in the Senate have indicated they
won't support a same-sex marriage bill.
Gay marriage is a crucial issue of equal rights in America that
cannot be ignored, Paterson said. He was joined by Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, other elected
officials, gay rights advocates and his wife, Michelle Paterson.
"For too long, gay and lesbian New Yorkers - we have pretended
they have the same rights as their neighbors and friends," he
said. "That is not the case. All have been the victims of what is
a legal system that has systematically discriminated against
Paterson, the state's first black governor, framed the issue in
sweeping terms, invoking Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher
Stowe and drawing a parallel between the fight to eliminate slavery
in the 1800s and the current effort to allow gay marriage.
"Rights should not be stifled by fear," Paterson said. "What
we should understand is that silence should not be a response to
injustice. And that if we take not action, we will surely lose."
Gay and lesbian couples are denied as many as 1,324 civil
protections - such as health care and pension rights - because they
cannot marry, Paterson said.
Quinn, who is openly lesbian, dared anyone to "tell me I
deserve less" than the right to marry her partner.
"Look me in the eye and tell me that Kim and I aren't a family,
that we don't struggle every day, that we don't pay taxes, that we
don't work every day in this city," she said. "No one can look me
or her in the eye and tell us that, because it is not true."
At the same time Paterson was announcing his proposal, Sen.
Ruben Diaz, also a Democrat but an opponent of same-sex marriage,
met with religious leaders to discuss how to block the bill.
Diaz, an evangelical pastor from the Bronx, said his meeting was
to inform Hispanics, Catholics, evangelicals and others opposed to
same-sex marriage of their options to prevent the bill's passage.
Diaz said it was disrespectful of Paterson to introduce the
legislation in the same week that Catholics celebrated the
installation of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who has voiced
opposition to same-sex marriage.
"I think it's a laugh in the face of the new archbishop," Diaz
said Thursday before the start of his meeting in the Bronx. "The
Jews just finished their holy week. The Catholics just received the
new archbishop. The evangelical Christians just celebrated Good
Friday and resurrection. He comes out to do this at this time? It's
a challenge the governor is sending to every religious person in
New York, and the time for us has come for us to accept the
Paterson, who attended Dolan's ceremony Wednesday at St.
Patrick's Cathedral, defended the timing of his announcement and
brushed off suggestions that he was deflecting attention from the
state's financial troubles, saying he has supported same-sex
marriage publicly since 1994.
"I haven't in any way changed my point of view," he said. "We
stand to tell the world we want marriage equality in New York
Paterson noted he was introducing the proposal with "the winds
at our back," referring to the recent approval of same-sex
marriage in Iowa and Vermont.
New York Democrats gained a 32-30 Senate majority in November's
elections. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who did not attend
Thursday's announcement, supports the measure but has said he
doesn't believe there are enough votes to pass it.
A Quinnipiac University poll this month showed that 41 percent
of New York voters backed legalized same-sex marriage; that 33
percent favored civil unions; and that 19 percent wanted no legal
recognition for such couples.
In March, a Marist College poll showed Paterson's job approval
rating was 26 percent, down from 46 percent in January and 57
percent in October.