Showing posts with label Dean Skelos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dean Skelos. Show all posts

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Scorecard on NY Marriage Equality: The Players and the Numbers

With all the tweets and [contradictory] news reports, I thought it might be helpful to give Non-New Yorkers (as well as confused New Yorkers) a scorecard on where things stand.

New York's Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratically-controlled lower house (the Assembly) are in favor of Marriage Equality. In fact, the Assembly has passed a Marriage Equality bill three times.

The hang-up is in the Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans by a slim margin of 32 - 30. There are a total of 62 Senators; unlike the US Senate or other states, a 31-31 tie is *not* broken by the Lt. Governor or some other figure. Therefore, in order to pass the Senate, 32 votes are needed.

29 Democrats are on record in support of the bill; one (Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx) does not. That means supporters need to get three Republicans to support the Bill.

2 Republicans have, in fact, announced full support (Sen. Mark Alesi of Rochester, and Sen McDonald of Saratoga). That makes 31. One more is needed.

Who the 32nd vote could be is a matter of conjecture (and I offer my own conjectures below). The Senate was supposed to recess for the summer on Monday; Senate leaders have been meeting relentlessly with the Assembly leaders and the Governor in order to insure that religious institutions are protected from lawsuits if the bill is adopted. The discussions go beyond protecting churches from performing same-sex marriages (they are already protected under the US Constitution's First Amendment), but also protecting quasi-businesses (Catholic Knights of Columbus Halls renting their facilities for weddings) and sectarian Adoption Agencies that receive government grants to operate.

So, if these issues are resolved, and a 32nd vote is found, does that means Equality is won? NO.

The leader of the Republican Caucus in the Senate, Sen. Dean Skelos of Long Island, has the 'right' to place the bill on the Senate's agenda for a vote - or to refuse to place it on the agenda, thus killing the bill by thwarting a vote, even if a majority of the Senate favors the bill. Skelos has promised to make this decision based on his closed-door negotiations with the Republican Senators.

In other words, one or more Republican Senators can pledge support for the bill, but since the majority of Republicans oppose it, they can block it from even coming to the floor for a vote.

If it DOES come up on the floor for a vote, and if it DOES pass, it's not over: the Senate's version of the bill is already known to be different than the version passed by the Assembly; therefore, the Assembly will have to be called back into session to pass the Senate's version. Democratic Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver has pledged to do this. It is assumed that the Assembly will support any bill passed by the Senate, but if the religious 'protections' are too broad, there *could* be a revolt in that chamber.

The Main Players:

Mike Long, Chair of the Conservative Party of New York State. In New York, 'minor' parties are able to 'cross-endorse' major party candidates, so that a candidate may run for election as a Republican and as a Conservative. The votes from both 'lines' are combined to give the candidates their winning totals. Even though the Conservatives control only 5% of vote, that is enough to provide the margin of victory in many districts. Long has threatened to withhold Conservative Party endorsement from any Republican who votes for Marriage Equality...and has gone further in demanding that the Repubicans not even allow the issue to be voted on. Ironically, Republican candidates in tight re-election races are caught between a rock and a hard place: they may very well need the Conservative Party line to win, but if their district is that close, they risk losing independents and moderates who overwhleming support Marriage Equality.

Countering Mike Long is Frank McKay, Chair of the Independence Party of New York. Though the Party does not have a stance on the bill, McKay favors it...and the Independence Party often delivers three times the number of votes than the Conservatives do. Many Republican Senators run with the support of both the Conservative and the Independence Party - but after this vote, they may be forced to ally themselves with one over the other.

Long Island Senator Dean Skelos is the Republican leader of the Senate. He has run with Conservative Party cross-endorsement, and has been consistent in stating he opposes the bill. As the highest-ranking Republican legislator who controls the Senate chamber with a razor-thin margin, he could be expected to try and mollify Conservatives, and even block a vote...or at least use it for political horse-trading on other issues with the Governor. However, Skelos has also repeatedly stated that he will allow the Republican caucus to decide whether or not to allow a vote. It is not known whether this is his way of avoiding personal responsibility for the issue, or whether he is buying time to twist Republican arms to gather support for the vote. Interestingly, Skelos regularly refers to the issue as "Marriage Equality," a phrase that supporters use (opponents usually say "gay marriage.") In addition, at least one Albany-area GLBT activist close to legislative activities privately confided to this blogger that Skelos secretly supports the bill.

Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx,
the only Democrat who opposes the bill, and who once stated, "I AM the Church AND the State." He has actively fought the bill, and busloads of church groups from his home district have arrived in Albany over the last few days in an effort to pray and sing the bill away.

Sen. Mark Alesi of Rochester, the first Republican to break ranks and declare his support for the bill. Alesi not only declared support, but personally appeared and spoke at a pro-Equality rally on the West Capitol Plaza on Tuesday, to the cheers of the crowd.

Sen. Roy McDonald of Saratoga
, the second Republican to break ranks, who did so with this colorful announcement:

"You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that.

Well, fuck it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.

I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.”

State Senator Greg Ball of the Lower Hudson Valley, long considered a swing Republican vote on the issue, who used his status to maximize media attention, including a well-publicized Twitter campaign asking for feedback. In spite of overwhelming support among responses, Ball announced two hours ago he was voting no, winning him the "Media-Whore-But-A-Thorough-Coward" award of the session. No real surprise: he had Conservative Party cross-endorsement last time, but not Independence Party support.

The Republican Swing Votes:
Follow the votes of the following Senators, for the stated reasons: From Long Island, where polls show strong support for the bill: Senator Kemp Hannon , who has a fairly safe district with R-C-I support, who was involved in negotiations with the Governor on this bill, and who has been the beneficiary of numerous gay campaign workers, including this blogger; Sen. Chuck Fuschillo, who won without Conservative Party support; Sen. John J. Flanagan, who had both Conservative & Independence Party support and is officially "undecided"; and Sen. Jack Martins , who won without Conservative Party endorsement, and whose district includes heavily Democratic, liberal and Jewish neighborhoods in Great Neck, Lake Success, Roslyn, Manhasset and North Hills.

In addition, Sen. Andrew J. Lanza from Staten Island, who won without Conservative Party support in 2010; Sen. Stephen Saland an influential Senator from Poughkeepsie, who never had Conservative Party support to begin with, and who was involved in negotiations with Cuomo over religious protections on this bill; Sen. Patty Ritchie of Watertown, who did not have Conservative support but whose district is part of a Congressional District that elected a Democrat in last years special election; and Sen. Mark Grisanti, from North Buffalo, who ran on three lines last time (R, C, I) and won with significant support from organized labor. His law practice specializing in taking up the causes of the disenfranchised.

The Clock is ticking....

Friday, June 17, 2011

NY Senate Republicans Stalling of Equality exposes Cowardice

According to Michael Gormley of the Associated Press, "Senate Republicans in New York say protecting religious groups that won't perform gay weddings or offer services to gay couples is a major factor in their refusal so far to bring same-sex marriage to a vote."

Marriage Equality in New York - which would probably pass if a vote was taken in the Senate - is being held up because the Republican-controlled Senate is (so far) not permitting the bill to be scheduled for a vote. The Senate adjourns on Monday.

Their reason? That religious institutions are not being protected in the bill.

A reason, that, in plain language, is a pure crap.

Religious institutions have ALWAYS been protected under the US Constitution to create their own rules for membership and marriage. Since our birth as a country, heterosexuals have had the right to marry; However, NO Roman Catholic Church has been forced to marry non-catholics. Synagogues have not been forced to marry non-Jews. Every religious institution has ALWAYS had the right to define who was eligible for marriage within that religious institution.

What the proposed law in New York State refers to is the legal right to be married in a CIVIL ceremony, as recognized by the STATE - it has NO effect on the right of religious institutions to conduct their own policy as they have seen fit, just as they have always done. This delay tactic by the GOP, presumably to protect religious institutions, has nothing to do with churches and everything to do with playing politics with peoples lives. And, quite frankly, not having the balls to stand up to the the RC Archbishop, Hassidic Jewish leaders, and the Conservative Party, which has threatened to withhold its endorsement from any Republican supporting the Marriage Equality Bill.

To be sure, the Conservative Party can deliver the margin of victory in a race, as it commands about 5% of the vote in many districts. However, the Conservative Party is notoriously weak and disorganized - if not entirely unorganized. When Conservative Party leaders are challenged by insurgents, it has been standard operating procedure for those leaders to call upon Republican operatives to step in and do their campaign leg-work for them...and yet, the NY GOP - once the most progressive in the nation - continues to allow itself to be emasculated as the Conservative Party becomes the very small tail that wags a once very large dog.

To be fair, in recent years, there have been two series of court decisions that, on their face, have seemed to require religious institutions to provide services to gay couples, and this may be part of the fear that some Senators have. It makes sense, then, to look at these two decisions.

The first is the Ocean Grove, New Jersey case, where the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was stripped of its non-profit status because it would not allow gay couples to rent their oceanfront boardwalk pavilion for weddings. Conservatives immediately pointed to this as evidence that 'gay marriage' would force religious institutions to provide services against their beliefs. But a closer look at the Ocean Grove situation shows their fears to be empty.

The pavilion is not owned by the United Methodist Church (as is often claimed), but by an independent organization called the "Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association." (There are "Camp Meeting Associations" associated with revival meetings within Methodism all up and down the eastern seaboard). The OGCMA owns all the land in a 1 square mile section of Neptune Township, but leases most of it out to homeowners and businesses. The pavilion in question received its tax exemption NOT BY BEING A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION, BUT THROUGH THE NEW JERSEY "GREEN ACRES" PROGRAM, whose purpose is to provide tax breaks for properties which help preserve open space for enjoyment and use by the public, without discrimination. The OGCMA never reserved the pavilion for Christian weddings or religious services of ANY kind, and received its tax exemption for preserving open green space. Thus, this case did NOT involve an infringement on religious rights, but on the terms of a state program exchanging tax relief for public access.

The second series of cases Conservatives point to involve adoption services offered through religious-oriented agencies such as Catholic Charities. In Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts, courts or legislatures have made it clear that these agencies can not discriminate against applicants, if they receive state tax money. In a number of jurisdictions, Catholic Charities has chosen to longer place children in foster care or adoption rather than comply with these rulings.

However, they had another choice: they could have stopped taking taxpayer funding. In each case, the agencies were prohibited from discriminating precisely because state governments were contracting with them to perform state functions - the placement of children into foster care or adoptive families. Catholic Charities can not claim to be both a private religious institution on one hand - and then stay afloat by using tax dollars paid for by Americans of all religious stripes on the other - and expect to be able to serve only those with their own religious viewpoint. (It should also be pointed out that these agencies were not only prohibited from discriminating against gays, but also against single moms and cohabiting heterosexuals).

Even though both of these cases turned on very specific, non-religious issues - tax exemption for open space, or state contractual duties using taxpayer money - Conservatives continue to claim that gay marriage will destroy religious groups' ability to practice their own faith. This, of course, is complete nonsense.

And the New York Republican Senate's efforts to avoid and stall Marriage Equality based on these arguments is shallow and cowardly.

Dean Skelos, Kemp Hannon, Chuck Fuschillo, John Flanagan, Mark Grisanti - your constituents deserve better than kowtowing to the Conservatives and throwing up religious smokescreens to avoid doing the right thing...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Open Letter to NYS Senators Hannon, Skelos & Fuschillo:

Dear Senators Hannon, Skelos, and Fuscillo:

As a former Baldwin resident and Past President of the Nassau County Young Republicans, who worked tirelessly on your campaigns for a decade, I am asking that you stand for what is right and support Marriage Equality in New York State.

Kemp, in the late 1970s, you ran for NYS Assembly for the first time. I met you daily, running ahead of you to make sure that we knocked on every door in South Hempstead for your first campaign. I spoke to voters, delivered literature, and worked phone banks on your behalf. While I certainly can’t claim credit for the victory that launched your life-long electoral career, I can recount the endless effort I put into your campaigns. You accepted that help gratefully. You didn’t ask whether I was gay or straight, and it didn’t seem to matter.

Dean and Charlie, your very electoral survival is due, in part, to the tireless efforts of gay men on your behalf. When Ronald Reagan ran for President in 1980 and again in 1984, there were serious concerns that he could not carry a state such as New York….and that his coattails (or lack thereof) might damage ‘local’ Republicans. None of you complained when Terry Dolan, a gay man, founded and operated NCPAC (the National Conservative Political Action Committee) out of a Greenwich Village rowhouse, to insure a lopsided Reagan victory in New York. Rolling into the 1990s, you all were nervous when Bill Clinton was polling double-digits ahead of George HW Bush, and, later, Bob Dole on Long Island….but that didn’t stop you from calling on the expertise of Art Finkelstein – another gay man – who had practically set up shop out of Nassau Co GOP Headquarters, beginning with his engineering of Al D’Amato to the statehouse. As Clinton steamrolled over the GOP in NY, Finkelstein coordinated media messages that resulted in victories from Pataki down to yourselves. And in spite of the Democratic wins in NY and nationally, you all managed to hang on to your seats for three decades.

All with the help – acknowledged or not – of gay men you on whom you were more than happy to rely.

I organized rallies, manned phone banks, coordinated enthusiastic youth for your events, ran local headquarter operations, and responded to every request.

And so now, as an “out,” gay man in his 50’s, I ask this of you: Do the right thing, and take this opportunity to end the apartheid treatment of your gay and lesbian constituents.

I now live in New Hampshire, arguably a far more conservative state than New York. We have had full Marriage Equality for a year and a half now. The sky has not fallen. Churches have not been forced to do anything contrary to their beliefs. Marriages across society have not suffered. Children have not been harmed.

Rather, people have avoided bankruptcy and unaddressed illness because they’ve been covered by their spouses health insurance. Children have been able to refer to their parents, rather than “mom and her friend.” Hospitals and banks have been able to afford spousal recognition on marital property. Couples have been afforded security and equality. And society has continued, stronger than ever.

Gay men and women are all around you. They have voted for you, strategized for you, and campaigned for you. They have the same dreams for their children, the same hopes and dreams for their future as any other of your constituents.

Do the right thing, and be a part of history in New York.


T. Thomas Fitzsimmons
(f/k/a Thomas Simmons)