February 2, 2012
By Adam Bink
And by single-issue, I mean pro-marriage equality, but not very concerned about how legislative dynamics impact other LGBT issues of concern.
Andy Humm at Gay City News in New York City has an important piece looking at donations to New York’s Republican and Democratic State Senators after they voted for marriage equality. Bottom line is that Republicans who switched their votes from 2009 and come from “tough” districts are getting far, far more — hundreds of thousands of dollars more — than Democratic State Senators who also live in similar “tough” districts, some of whom switched their votes as well. Many donors are giving before a challenger is even lined up or it’s clear there will be a challenger at all to the Republicans (though, in fairness, having a war chest does sometimes scare challengers off). The conventional wisdom is that voting for equality hurts the Republicans more than the Democrats, and Republicans — some of whom oppose many other issues of LGBT equality — need to be “rewarded” whether or not they need the money, in order to “show” other Republicans that if you back the gays, they will back you.
I think showing someone you have their back is important — to a point. That point is when an overwhelmingly anti-Republican Senate caucus continues to retain control of the State Senate, as they do now. I speak from a background of growing up in suburban Buffalo under a Republican-led State Senate, when Republicans and Republican leadership in Majority Leader Bruno specifically in the State Senate did their best to oppose the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (caving only in 2002 when a deal was cut to let it come to the floor for a vote to pass, in exchange for Republican Gov. Pataki getting an election-year endorsement from the state’s leading LGBT rights organization). For many years, the only reason SONDA did not pass was one simple reason: the Majority Leader of the State Senate was an anti-LGBT Republican.
Today, GENDA, which extends protections on the basis of gender identity, is still not enacted, and there are other issues such as housing protections for people with HIV, as Senator Gianaris notes in Andy’s piece. And that’s just on LGBT issues. If an anti-LGBT Republican caucus returns in the majority next year, riding on the wave of donors delighted to have marriage equality (but many of whom, and I can attest to this, don’t care much about transgender people, homeless LGBT youth funding or those lacking housing protections because they are HIV+), that will likely remain the case. Yet when you consider that 29 of the 33 State Senators who voted for marriage equality are Democrats; and that the overwhelming number of votes to pass the marriage equality bill (several times) in the Assembly came from Democrats, under the leadership of a Democratic Assembly Speaker and an out, Democratic Assemblymember (Danny O’Donnell) along with many other outspokenly pro-LGBT Democrats; and that it was a Democratic Governor (Eliot Spitzer) who publicly campaigned on marriage equality in New York to help start the ball rolling at the gubernatorial level; and a Democratic Governor (David Paterson) who kept moving the ball by lobbying so hard on it he went so far as to call a special session with marriage on the agenda; and a Democratic Governor (Andrew Cuomo) who twisted the arms and lobbied hard to get it done; and it was only narrowly (and rarely) that we even got a vote in the State Senate on an issue that the Republican Majority Leader (Dean Skelos) opposed, well, you have to wonder whether credit and money being overwhelmingly tilted at four Republicans is wise.
Here’s Assemblyman O’Donnell:
Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, an out gay Upper West Side Democrat who led the charge on marriage equality in his chamber, saw the Times story about the gay money going to Republicans and said, “None of it has come to me. Part of this business involves raising money. [Assembly Speaker] Shelly Silver has led the battle and I led the campaign. We put this out front and center when people in the governor’s office didn’t think we could do it.”
Gay donors, O’Donnell said, tell him, “‘We don’t want to take you for granted,’ but that is what has happened. When the larger gay community doesn’t recognize who fought the battle for so long, it makes the next battle harder.”
The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which has passed the Assembly four times, has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate and did not pass when Democrats had narrow control two years ago.
“We can’t do that without a strong, Democratic majority,” O’Donnell said of GENDA.
“At my first fundraiser after we won same-sex marriage, only my friends came,” he recalled. “I go to the dinners for the Victory Fund, which does great work and where people buy tables for $10,000. But I didn’t get a single check from any of those donors.”
The group endorsed him, O’Donnell said, but that’s about it.
Now, O’Donnell doesn’t face a tough challenge. Nor does the Speaker. But his overwhelmingly pro-LGBT caucus does, and it’s hard to win these fights without out, vocal leaders like O’Donnell on the frontlines, quarterbacking and pulling his colleagues aside to push for their votes.
The solution to this is not abandoning Republicans who voted for marriage equality. But there has to be balance with consideration of political dynamics and right now, the dynamics may mean LGBT progress is unlikely to advance soon in New York State.