Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I understand the impatience. I do. In a perfect world, one should never have to struggle to achieve equality, and basic rights should never be in question, let alone subject to tyranny of the majority.

But it's not a perfect world. Go figure.

Which makes last night's news out of Albany very important. As you've certainly read by now, the New York State Assembly passed legislation that would legalize marriage by a margin of 85 in favor, to 61 opposed.

But first, the bad news: don't get your hopes up. There is no way in hell that the State Senate will pass the bill this year (or, frankly, next year), so this will not become law. And while I've been amused this morning reading dozens of angry blog comments promising angry retribution against Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno if the bill doesn't pass his house, I can assure you that Bruno isn't scared of you or worried about your threats. His constituency -- and the constituencies of most of his majority, not to mention quite a few members of the Democratic minority -- either don't care about or are hostile to the concept of gay marriage.

I'm not calling for complacency, just for a dose a realism. Remember that more than 20% of the Assembly Democratic Conference opposed the bill, and keep things in perspective.

Now, the good news: I am confident it will, eventually, happen. And yesterday's Assembly vote is proof of that.

When I went to work for the New York State Assembly in 1982, Hugh Carey was still governor; when I left in 1996, George Pataki was midway through his first term. During the 14 years I worked in Albany -- and at a fairly senior level for most of that time -- not only was gay marriage was never discussed, but even the most benign gay rights legislation was, at best, neglected. Sometimes, after a few decades, a relatively uncontroversial measure would pass, but an issue like gay marriage? Oh hell no.

And yet, just one decade later, the Assembly has taken this bold step. More to the point, it wasn't just legislators from the traditional gay ghettoes who voted in favor of the bill, but a broad coalition of men and women -- and, let's not forget, a few courageous Republicans -- who stepped to the plate, put their careers on the line, and voted to do the right thing.

I know some of these people, and I know their districts, and I can assure you that this wasn't a politically expedient vote. The easy thing would have been to vote no. They voted yes.

We had a lot to do with this, and not just those (whose numbers didn't include me) who traveled to Albany, met with as many people as they could, and rallied. The rest of us played a role just by living our lives openly, and maybe making it easier for others to come out than it was for us. The cumulative ripple effect has had an effect. It is the human face that forces even the most conservative legislators to take note, and start thinking of the LGBT community as people, not 'others.'

Ten years seems like a long time, but it really isn't. That doesn't mean it's right for things to take a long time to happen, but it's a fact of life. That these 85 Members of the Assembly stood and publicly proclaimed their support for gay marriage in the State of New York gives me a lot of optimism for the near future.

Will it happen this year or next? No. Within the next five or six years? More likely. Change is slow, but -- as the Assembly proved last night -- change does happen.

And now, my own personal shout out to some Members of the Assembly whom I know (or at least once knew) and deeply respect for their courage: Jonathan Bing, Joe Morelle, David Koon, Susan John, Roann Destito, Jeffrion Aubrey, Ron Canestrari, and Sam Hoyt. Thanks. Next time you're in town the drinks are on me.

UPDATE from the Dept. of Unintentional Neglect: Everyone is (deservedly) singing the praises of Assembly Members O'Donnell, Gottfried, Glick, and the other elected officials who moved the bill through the Assembly, but it's important to note that none of this would have happened without the leadership, organization, and political savvy of New York's only statewide LGBT advocacy group, the Empire State Pride Agenda. Unlike some of our national groups, the Pride Agenda is results-oriented... as we've just witnessed. The Washington-based groups could learn a lesson or twelve from them.