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Thursday, May 26, 2011

A change of heart, for gay marriage

By Janet L. Duprey -

I have spent most of my adult life in public service. I have been a Republican county legislator and treasurer and, for the last five years, the representative from the 114th Assembly District. The people I represent put their faith and trust in me to make the difficult decisions on issues where passions run high. Doing the right thing takes the courage of one's convictions.
In 2007, my first year in Albany, the bill to allow the freedom to marry was debated for the first time in this state's history. As a candidate for office, I advocated for civil unions. When it came time to cast my vote, I voted against the same-sex marriage bill. The debate and testimony of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle was compelling and I was deeply moved. After the vote, I said that I would continue to study this issue, meet with my constituents and keep an open mind.
For two years, I did just that. I met with people in my district on both sides and listened to their arguments. I received hundreds of phone calls, letters and emails.
I met with religious leaders and others who spoke passionately and intelligently about their beliefs. In all of those discussions, the ones who moved me most were parents who wanted nothing more than to see their gay and lesbian children share the same benefits, protections and love with their significant others as their siblings and other married couples do.
When the time came to vote on the marriage bill in 2009, I made a decision that I knew in my heart was the right thing to do. I voted for the bill.
After the vote, some were quick to write my political obituary. They said my constituents would never forgive me for changing my vote. They said the extremists who promised to defeat me would win.
They were wrong. The outpouring of support and appreciation I received was overwhelming. It came from my constituents and from advocates committed to standing behind those who support the freedom to marry.
That community of support made a difference. The moral and financial support, strategic advice and counseling and dedicated commitment by volunteers proved too much for those who campaigned against me because of my vote.
I did not lose my election because of my stand. Neither has any of the 72 Republican legislators who have voted for the freedom to marry. That is because no election is decided on a single issue. I ran on my entire record, including my vote for marriage for everyone. The vast majority of my North Country constituents respected my decision, whether they agreed with me or not.
I won re-election last November with 60 percent of the vote against two opponents. My nearest competitor received only 25 percent of the vote. And I defeated my other opponent, who challenged me because of my same-sex marriage vote, by almost a four-to-one margin.
Public sentiment is changing. Some polls show a strong majority of New Yorkers support marriage equality. My re-election demonstrates that even elected officials can have a change of heart and not lose public support.
It is a decision that does not come easily. But I'm hopeful as the marriage debate moves forward, others can learn from my experiences, search their hearts as I did, and do the right thing.

Janet L. Duprey is a Republican member of the state Assembly, She represents Clinton and Franklin counties and a part of Essex County.

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