Activists prepare for Marriage Equality Day in Albany

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Friday February 4, 2011

Nearly 300 people from across New York State are expected to travel to Albany on Tuesday, Feb. 8, to lobby their legislators to allow marriage for same-sex couples. The question remains, however, whether their efforts will prove successful.

"We have a new governor in office who has not only made the commitment to our community and to New York State to pass marriage equality, but he said he'd like to have it done this year," said Ron Zacchi, executive director of Marriage Equality New York, the group behind Marriage Equality Day. "With this statement, its urgent New Yorkers put their time and energy to have it pass in New York State this year."

Zacchi told EDGE there are 26 pro-marriage equality votes in the state Senate-two more than there were when senators struck down a marriage equality bill in late 2009. The state Assembly has passed a marriage equality bill three times, but Senate Republicans remain crucial.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos [R-Rockville Centre] said in October he would allow his Republican members to vote their conscience on marriage. Plugging the state's $3.5 billion budget deficit will certainly dominate the legislative agenda in Albany in the coming months, but Zacchi remains undaunted.

"It's really an important year, it's an important time," he said. "We're trying to meet with and talk with new senators who have not been on their record with their votes. It's really important to meet with them, to talk with them and see where they're at. MENY has always felt no legislator is not worth talking to."

Anne Tischer, a Rochester-based MENY organizer, agreed.

"We need to make this non-partisan and be there on Feb. 8 so that every legislator-Republican, Democrat, Independent, I don't care who they are-know LGBT people are not going away," she said, noting marriage equality would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into New York's struggling economy. "If you take out the spin with this, there's every possibility this would be an opportunity for legislators to show bipartisan support. And wouldn't it be nice to see our legislators demonstrate that they can successfully work together on anything?"

Albany-based MENY organizer Peter Mesh specifically mentioned state Sens. Roy McDonald [R-Saratoga] and Betty Little [R-Queensbury] as Republicans who could potentially support marriage equality.

"I'm hoping that there's going to be enough Republicans who will say this makes sense and they will be able to get a vote on the floor," said Mesh.

A Quinnipiac University poll late last month indicated 56 percent of New Yorkers support marriage for same-sex couples. Marriage equality could very well be a reality in both Maryland and Rhode island by the end of the year, but Zacchi is confident New York will quickly join the handful of other states and the District of Columbia that currently allow same-sex couples to tie the knot.

"If it doesn't happen this year, than next year," he said. "In the next two years, it can definitely become a reality in New York."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.