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Governor Cuomo, speaking in Syracuse where he kicked off a statewide tour to press for gay marriage and other items, likened the legalization of same sex marriage to a continuation of the civil rights movement for women and African Americans, and part of an old New York tradition.
“It is a basic civil rights battle,” said Cuomo as the crowd cheered. “Same sex couples have the same right to marry.”
The Reverend Jason McGuire, a lobbyist for the conservative Christian group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom, says his members don’t see it that way. “We see no evidence that suggests that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic,” said McGuire, who says it’s different than what black Americans fought for.
“They were people who were not being politically represented,” said McGuire, who says the pro-gay marriage effort has millions of dollars to draw on and is well represented politically. Groups supporting traditional marriage are also pumping money into their efforts. The National Organization for Marriage has announced it will spend $500,000 on lobbying and television ads, and $1 million dollars on campaigns to oppose incumbents who vote for gay marriage.
McGuire’s group has launched what it calls a May Day for Marriage Tour. Using an RV, the group is traveling to different cities with the message that traditional marriage must be preserved.
Polls show that there’s growing support for same sex marriage. 58% of New Yorkers now support it, but Reverend McGuire believes there’s more ambivalence about the issue than the polls suggest. And he says while he doesn’t doubt Governor Cuomo’s commitment to the issue, the governor has chosen to highlight gay marriage for some rather cynical reasons. He says Cuomo has alienated some on the left, viewed as his traditional base of supporters, with his fiscally conservative budget and stance on property taxes, measures that McGuire’s conservative group applauds.
“Governor Cuomo, I believe, needs an issue that won’t cost the state anything, at least in the short term, and can win back some of that liberal left base that’s been wondering ‘what have we got now with Governor Cuomo’,” said McGuire.
Opponents of gay marriage plan a rally at the State Capitol on May 24th, and pro same sex marriage groups already held a major lobbying day. All of the efforts will come down to influencing just a hand full of votes in the State Senate, where a bill to legalize same sex marriage failed in December of 2009.
Both sides believe that the Senate needs less than a half dozen Senators to switch to yes votes in order for the measure to be approved. While pro gay marriage groups are trying to persuade some Senators to change their minds, McGuire’s group is trying to get them to stand firm. He says Senators should not be lulled into “complacency” because of the previous lack of efforts by traditional marriage supporters. He says voters opposed to gay marriage will “care about this in 2012”.
And both sides are threatening repercussions in those 2012 legislative elections. Gay marriage supporters claim credit for ousting long time GOP Senator Frank Padavan, who lost by a narrow margin in 2010.
McGuire says some Senate elections can be so close, that one issue with just a few hundred ardent supporters or opponents, like same sex marriage, can make all the difference.