Cuomo: Gay-Marriage Law "Meant More To People Than I Even Imagined" | News
By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY - Even on the day of the same-sex marriage vote last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wasn't sure of the outcome.
He talked privately on that day, June 24, 2011, with each of the four Republican senators who were breaking ranks from their conference to support the bill. And he talked to other senators to ensure the bill would still be brought to the floor for a vote.
In the unpredictable world of Albany politics, you can never be too confident, Cuomo explained.
"So even that day, I wasn't sure," Cuomo said of whether New York would become the sixth and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The bill passed 33-29. It came after Cuomo spent weeks holding private meetings with gay-rights leaders and reluctant state senators, who voted down a similar bill in 2009.
In an interview Tuesday in his office, Cuomo said the decision to push for the vote was arduous.
He turned to his mentor and father, three-term governor Mario Cuomo. The younger Cuomo said he and his father had "a rolling conversation" for weeks about how to proceed.
A failed vote again - the first was under then-Gov. David Paterson - would have been devastating to the gay community, the current governor said.
"I remember sitting with my father and saying, 'This is a tough call,'" Cuomo explained. "I said because I don't know that we are going to get it. And if you asked me to bet, I would bet that we don't get it passed. And it's not so clear that losing is worth it. It would have been the second loss."
But to not push forward, he concluded, would have been worse than not trying at all. He said social justice comes in steps.
"I decided, fine, we're all in and we go," Cuomo said. "And if we don't get it this time, we'll go again. And if we don't get it that time, we'll go again and ultimately we'll get there. But I never knew for sure."
The vote was a heavy lift. It could pass easily in the Democratic-led Assembly, where it had been approved several times since 2007.
The Senate was different.
In 2009, the measure failed badly, 24-38, with all Senate Republicans and eight Democrats voting against it. And in 2009, Democrats controlled the chamber. Now, Republicans held a 32-30 seat majority.
Cuomo first worked to ensure that all but one of the 30 Democrats were in support. Gay-marriage opponent Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Democratic pastor from the Bronx, was the only holdout.
To Cuomo, getting the Democrats on board was just as difficult as getting the four Republicans to support it. Even with the four Republicans' support, he needed assurance from the Republican conference, including Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, who opposed the bill, that they would have a vote because of the potential political fallout. Skelos and the conference allowed the vote.
"That was second hurdle. First you had to get four. Now they knew you had four," Cuomo said. "So the conference knew if they let it out, it would pass."
The reaction to the law's passage, Cuomo said, has been overwhelming. He recalled one instance when an older man saw him in the street and thanked him.
"As soon as he saw me, he started to cry. And he said, 'You know, Mr. Governor. Thirty years ago, my son told me he was gay. He said I haven't been able to deal with him since. I shouldn't have needed you to tell me it was okay to love my boy. But I did.'"
Cuomo said the vote inspired the nation and showed that New York was again a progressive leader -- a key theme for him since he took office in 2011.
"It meant more to people than I even imagined," Cuomo said. "Marriage equality, it wasn't even about marriage. It was about equality. It was about acceptance; it was about affirmation."
Two days after the vote, Cuomo walked in the Gay Pride Parade in Manhattan.
"Exuberance like I have never seen," Cuomo described. "Not at any crowd, any ballgame, any rock concert, any celebrity thing. It was about them ... They were cheering for themselves. It was about them."