TOPICS > Politics

After N.Y. Passes Same-Sex Marriage Law, What’s Next for Proponents, Foes?

June 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Thousands of marchers and spectators at New York City's annual LGBT Pride March this weekend hailed the state's brand-new same-sex marriage law. Jeffrey Brown discusses the state Legislature's vote with the National Organization for Marriage's Maggie Gallagher and Democratic New York Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, Jeffrey Brown looks at what’s ahead in the battle over same-sex marriage, after supporters won a major victory in New York state this weekend.

JEFFREY BROWN: There were flags, floats and an extra air of celebration Sunday at New York City’s annual Gay Pride Parade. As many as 6,000 marchers and many thousands more spectators turned out to cheer the coming of same-sex marriage in New York state.

DAVID FRIEND, New York: We have been together for eight-and-a-half years. All of my siblings are married. There’s no reason why our relationship shouldn’t have the same rights and benefits and responsibilities that my siblings do.

MAN: Ayes 33, nays 29.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: The state Senate gave the bill final approval Friday night, after weeks of protest and tense negotiations at the state capitol.

The statute takes effect in late July, when New York will become the largest state to allow same-sex marriage, joining five others and the District of Columbia. At yesterday’s parade, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who played a powerful public and behind-the-scenes role in pushing the new law, said it has broader significance.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, D-N.Y.: New York, for many, many years, has served as the progressive beacon for this country. And passing marriage equality, I think, advances the entire discussion.

JEFFREY BROWN: And at pride parades from Chicago to San Francisco, supporters reflected that optimism.

MAN: Keep going. More states.

HOWARD BYE, same-sex marriage supporter: I think it’s sort of a turning point for us. And perhaps we will get full — full equality and full rights soon.

JEFFREY BROWN: But that sense of hope comes in the face of continuing stiff opposition. Twenty-nine states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. And 12 others have laws against it. And when put on state ballots, voters have consistently backed gay marriage bans, including in California, where in 2008, voters approved Proposition 8, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. A federal judge’s ruling striking down that proposition remains on appeal.

One Republican governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey, said Sunday he would support so-called civil unions for gay partners, but nothing more.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: I am not a fan of same-sex marriage. It’s not something that I support. I believe marriage should be between one man and one woman. That’s my view. And that will be the view of our state, because I wouldn’t sign a bill that — like the one that was in New York.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the national level, President Obama has said his position is evolving, but not yet to the point of fully endorsing gay marriage.

Gay and lesbian supporters confronted him at a fund-raiser in Manhattan last Thursday.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I heard you guys.

If you keep up the fight, and if you will devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter in that story. And we are going to leave a new generation with a brighter future and a more hopeful future. And I will be standing there right — right there with you.

JEFFREY BROWN: For now, the Obama Justice Department has said it will no longer defend a federal law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

And for more on New York and beyond, we’re joined by Daniel O’Donnell, a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly — he’s the first openly gay man elected to that body and led the push to legalize gay marriage in the state — and Maggie Gallagher, co-founder and chair of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that lobbies around the country to keep marriage between a man and a woman.

Mr. O’Donnell, I will start with you.

Two years ago, this bill was rejected by a Democrat-led majority Senate. This time, it passed through a Republican-majority Senate. What changed?

DANIEL O’DONNELL, (R) New York State assemblyman: Many things have changed in the last two years. When I first got this bill passed in 2007, the polling on this subject was in the low 40s.

The polling these days in New York is, close to 60 percent of New Yorkers support my right to equality. So, we had a governor who was fully supportive and was willing to commit his vast political goodwill. We had money behind it. And we had coordination of all the groups that are in favor, worked very closely together.

And so all those things allowed the decision to be made by the leadership of the Senate to put the bill on the floor. I have known for at least a month, if the bill was put on the floor, that we had enough votes to pass my equality.

JEFFREY BROWN: And just staying with you for a moment, some of that money you referred to reportedly came from Republican donors.

Now, how — how important was that in getting four Republicans to cross over and join the Democrats?

DANIEL O’DONNELL: Well, it’s extraordinarily important that we reach across the aisle to make people understand that this is not just one party’s issue.

I have always had Republican supporters in the assembly. Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward have been fabulous in my help. They have always gotten re-elected without any difficulty. And so it was important to show that, if in fact any senator was willing to stand up and say, what’s right is right and equal is equal, that the community would support them in that decision.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Maggie Gallagher, how do you interpret what happened in New York?

MAGGIE GALLAGHER, National Organization for Marriage: Well, I think, for reasons that are very hard to explain, Republicans who campaigned one way decided to vote another, which is something that never goes over well with voters, in order to help Andrew Cuomo in his eventual bid to run for president.

It’s one thing to sell out your principles in order to get elected. That’s wrong. But to sell out your principles in order to get the other guy elected is just plain dumb. And I do think that the Republican Party in New York is going to pay a big price for that, because, you know, the polling we did — and the polling is becoming very sensitive to how you ask the question, but when we asked New Yorkers, do you want to define marriage as one man and one woman, the answer was 57 percent still support that.

And I think that’s why our call to refer this to the people of New York went unheeded, and the politicians in Albany, you know, quickly pushed this through.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you don’t see a shift in public opinion over the last few years at all?

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: We’re not seeing it on the ground. We are seeing some change in polling. And when you look at it, it depends on how the question is asked and what context it’s in.

I think it’s true — and I don’t have a problem with this — people are very sensitive. They don’t want to express disrespect to gay people. But, deep down, the majority of Americans believe marriage is different. Marriage is the union of husband and wife for a reason.

And I know gay marriage advocates believe that, too, because they are never, ever willing to join with us and refer it to the people and abide by a direct vote of the people.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the Republicans who voted in favor of it this time, you think they will be — they will be punished?  

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: I think…

JEFFREY BROWN: What — what happens?

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: Well, I don’t think it’s punishment. I think they’re accountable to their constituents.

They campaigned. You know, Mark Grisanti actually came to us in 2008 and said, help me defeat a Democrat who voted for gay marriage. I’m totally for traditional marriage.

And he’s one of the guys who voted for gay marriage. I don’t think it’s going to go down well. The Democrats really took an issue which is important to their base, but not to the majority of New Yorkers, and they satisfied their base. The Republican Party just sold out their base in order to help the Democrats please theirs. And it’s really dumb politics.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, now, Mr. O’Donnell, what — you can respond to that. And I want to know the — the sort of turning-point question here is, does what happened, what just happened in New York, represent a kind of model that might go to other states?

DANIEL O’DONNELL: I think it will.

In brief response, you know, polling is so subject to manipulation. When you call someone and ask them at their home whether or not they think marriage should be between one man and one woman, that answer is almost as equally about polygamy as it is about whether or not I should have the right to get married.

I’m looking forward to the day that a poll is taken where you call people and say, should a gay person be denied a license because they’re gay? That is what the question at hand is. Now, if you look at the state of New York’s history, we have led many movements.

The anti-slavery movement, the abolitionist movement started in New York. The right of women to vote started in New York. The anti-apartheid movement started in New York in this country. And so we have led in many of those things.

The truth is, no one has ever been able to establish why my ability to get a license that many of my colleagues have had two and three times is harmful to anyone at all. In fact, it has no impact on anyone else but me.

And, in the end, it was the right thing to do because the vast majority of New Yorkers have come to understand that to give me that piece of paper is — is not a problem to them. It’s just something that I should be getting — getting as an equal New Yorker to everyone else.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think, Maggie Gallagher, that this has repercussions in other states?

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: I think that it’s going to energize the base enormously. It’s going to add — it’s already injecting it into the presidential campaign.

JEFFREY BROWN: The conservative base.

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: Yes, the conservative base.

You know, it will probably energize the Democratic base in New York as well for Andrew Cuomo, but not nationally. And, you know, I think that the majority of people — and I understand that Mr. O’Connell has his own view, but the majority of people think…

DANIEL O’DONNELL: It’s O’Donnell. It’s O’Donnell.

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: Oh, I’m so sorry. Sorry.

The majority of people think that marriage is the union of husband and wife for a reason. These are the unions that make new life and connect children in love to their mother and father. All of us have a right to live as we choose. We do not have the right, any of us, to redefine what marriage is, in our view.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. But — but tell me more about the political situation, as it’s playing out. Where does this go from here?

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: Well, the next big fight, I think, is in New Hampshire, where the question is, in New Hampshire, the Democrats passed gay marriage, and the people elected — massively repudiated that by electing a new legislature, just as they did in Maine, by the way, in this last election cycle.

And I think the people of Maine were the first to repeal gay marriage. The question will be whether the legislature in New Hampshire becomes the second state to repeal gay marriage. There’s also a live movement in Iowa, a movement to pass a marriage amendment in North Carolina, and the people of Minnesota will decide this question, unlike the people of New York, in 2012, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mr. O’Donnell, so what is the key that you see in taking what just happened in New York to other states? What does it — what would it require in terms of politics to make happen there what happened in New York?

DANIEL O’DONNELL: Well, we have representative democracy for a reason. That’s what we have in our country.

And if you don’t believe in representative democracy, then maybe you shouldn’t live in this country. We elect representatives. And their job is to reflect the will of their constituents and do what the right thing is.

There are times that I take positions that my constituents don’t agree with. But when — as long as I’m able to explain to them why I came to where I came to, I’m going to be pretty much all right. In the end, as the first gay man to sit in the New York State Assembly, I was able to move the vote count from 24 people in 2007 to 85 yes-votes.

And it’s a simple process. It’s not complicated. But it requires a lot of work and a lot of diligence. And, in the end, most of my colleagues voted yes because they realize that John and I are not a threat to anyone, and John and I just want what others have and many have had them more than one time.

And so that’s all this is about. And so I believe that we can replicate this all across this country. I look forward to the day when Defense of Marriage Act is declared unconstitutional, as it was last week by a bankruptcy court in California.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

DANIEL O’DONNELL: And I look forward to everyone in America having equality.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK, and a brief last word, Maggie Gallagher. You have see this playing out in the courts and the ballots and in amendments, continuing?

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: Yes, I do. I don’t think this is over. It’s not over in New York.

I think that an issue like marriage is very foundational. And there are people who wish gay people well in this country, but do not believe these unions are marriages and that we should keep marriage as it’s always been across time and history and place.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Maggie Gallagher, Daniel O’Donnell, thank you both very much.

DANIEL O’DONNELL: Thank you. Thank you.