By NY State Senator Thomas K. Duane
COMMENTARY: On October 12 the White House decided to appeal a federal court ruling that struck down the hateful Defense of Marriage Act. The Obama administration claims that while the president believes DOMA should be repealed, his Justice Department must defend the statute because that is what it “traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged.”
I am outraged that President Obama would turn his back on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Sadly, he is not the first powerful and influential official who claims to be our friend while at the same time insisting his “hands are tied” when fighting against our rights in the courtroom.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, on behalf of the city, used this ploy in 2005 when he ordered his corporation counsel to appeal New York State supreme court justice Doris Ling-Cohen’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage based on the equal protection clause of the New York State constitution. Mayor Bloomberg took his antimarriage argument, which included a dose of Leviticus, all the way to the state’s highest court, which ruled in his favor, deciding that LGBT people did not have the right to marriage equality under the state constitution.
Mayor Bloomberg patronizingly insisted that he appealed Justice Ling-Cohen’s decision in order to “spare” same-sex couples the “pain” of being married only to have those marriages voided later by a higher court. He succeeded. No one in New York’s gay community can marry the one he or she loves thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s actions. He now pretends that he had nothing to do with the court decision and trips over microphones to claim he is our biggest ally.
Former governor Eliot Spitzer also used this ploy in his role as attorney general. In 2004 then-attorney general Spitzer, who publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage in his race for governor, issued an “advisory opinion” to localities indicating that New York law did not permit clerks the authority to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And in 2005, Atty. Gen. Spitzer used his office to join Mayor Bloomberg in the same courtrooms to push back marriage equality. To his credit, when Eliot Spitzer became governor, he tried to make up for his past transgressions by quickly introducing marriage legislation and fighting like hell to pass it in the state senate.
President Obama should not assume that Congress will do the right thing for the LGBT community if his administration prevails against us in court. Relying on a legislative body would be a dreadful mistake. The president, like the LGBT community, must be very careful before taking a political leader’s word to the bank.
In 2009 state senate Republican leader Dean Skelos consistently told me, up to five minutes before the marriage vote, that he was going to let each member of the Republican conference vote his or her conscience. After the vote, when every Republican senator voted against marriage equality, I realized that Dean Skelos misspoke. He must have meant that he was ordering the Republicans to vote no as a conference, and not, as I was led to believe, to take a conscience vote. He fooled me once. Shame on me.
Unbelievably, Minority Leader Skelos is now leading the New York Log Cabin Republicans down the same primrose path by claiming that should the Republicans take control of the senate chamber in 2011, he would bring the marriage equality act to the floor for an up-or-down vote. Senator Skelos stated, “I’ve always said that it will be a vote of conscience with our members, and subject to speaking to my conference, I would put the bill out for a vote again. Unbelievable. LGBT advocates in New York State must not pretend that this is a major announcement, when in reality it is just more of the same. If we are fooled a second time, shame on us!
Skelos’s credibility on marriage equality is especially questionable given his embrace of New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who denigrated and endangered all members of the LGBT community with his comments that homosexuality is “dysfunctional,” not a “valid and successful” option for children, and that children would suffer from seeing men bumping and grinding in Speedos in gay pride parades. Rather than forcefully condemning Paladino’s hateful, violence-inciting remarks, which came in the wake of a horrifically brutal antigay gang assault in the Bronx and the suicides of several young LGBT people who were victims of homophobic harassment, Senator Skelos characterized them as “intemperate” and “wrong.” He further noted that “[Paladino] apologized” and said “you move on from your mistakes, you learn from them.” Some friend, that Dean Skelos.
The LGBT community has too often been hurt by enemies like Carl Paladino and Dean Skelos, and sadly, we are hurt in every way — physically because of the violence permitted and incited as well as personally and politically — by many of our so-called friends, who make empty promises.
In light of marriage equality’s cataclysmic failures in New York’s judiciary and its legislature, I implore President Obama not to follow New York’s example. Appealing important and affirming court decisions on “procedural grounds” has disastrous consequences. I urge him to direct Atty. Gen. Eric Holder to use the Justice Department as an instrument to root out all injustice and discrimination, including that which has a severe negative impact on the LGBT community.
Mr. President, you can and must do better.
Some of Senator Duane's passion for his constituents.