Bloomberg Won’t Stop Supporting Anti-Gay Senators in New York
By Andy Humm
An invitation-only speech by Mayor Mike Bloomberg laying out the case for same-sex marriage at Cooper Union in New York has garnered a lot of uncritical praise. Bloomberg’s stirring words, however, have not been backed up by the most effective and meaningful action that he could take: ending his personal bankrolling of the anti-gay Republican majority in the New York Senate that voted unanimously against this marriage equality in 2009.
Bloomberg has been asked by reporters if he will stop donating to Senators who oppose this bill and he has refused, saying he is not “single issue.” So while he has tried to position himself as a champion of marriage equality and to characterize it as the most important civil rights issue of our time, he has in fact been and continues to be the biggest impediment to the bill that would open New York’s marriage bureaus to gay couples.
We just saw Democrat Kathy Hochul win a special election for Congress in NY26, one of the most Republican districts in the country. Republicans are indeed a dying breed in New York, but they were able to regain their majority in the New York State Senate in 2010 long past their expiration date in this state primarily through the infusion of millions of dollars in personal donations from Mike Bloomberg. (There are some anti-gay Democrats in the Senate, too. Several have been replaced with pro-gay votes since the 2009 vote. But ALL of the Republicans voted against marriage equality.)
So now we have the grotesque spectacle of Bloomberg making a $100,000 donation to marriage equality groups to lobby the very anti-gay Republicans that he has done his best to empower. Bloomberg’s best friend in the Senate, Marty Golden of Brooklyn, responded to the mayor’s lobbying him on same-sex marriage by introducing a bill to ban recognition of same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere. That bill is gratuitous since the Democrat-led Assembly has thrice voted for marriage equality and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a supporter of the marriage equality bill. But Bloomberg had nothing to say about Senator Golden’s despicable act.
More below the fold.
The funny thing about the “fight” for same-sex marriage in New York State is that we live in one of the few states that do not license same-sex couples but fully recognize same-sex marriages licensed outside the state. Thousands of gay and lesbian couples have crossed the border into Connecticut, Massachusetts, Canada, and Vermont to get married and are recognized as such in New York for all purposes public and private-except taxation because the NY Department of Finance adamantly maintains that state law mandates that people file using the same status as they do on their federal forms. That anomaly will have to fixed with separate legislation. And gay married couples across the country need the repeal of DOMA to get federal rights.
Back to Bloomberg. He is acting like a marriage equality champion now, but his record has been terrible on the issue. As a mayoral candidate in 2001, he refused to say if he supported marriage equality and tried to confuse the issue by saying, “I don’t think the government should be involved in who you can marry.” Uh, Mike, marriage is a government institution. No one was stopping gay couples from getting religious weddings-it is the government that refuses to license it.
In 2005, another grotesque spectacle. New York State Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ordered Bloomberg to start providing marriage licenses to gay couples who wanted them. Bloomberg was in the midst of a mayoral campaign and was worried about a primary challenge from a conservative Republican. So he announced that he would appeal the judge’s order to “get clarity” from the courts. He insists that he HAD to make the appeal which we all know is a big lie. California Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to appeal Judge Walker’s decision overturning Prop 8. And now President Obama is refusing to defend the constitutionality of DOMA. No Democrat running for mayor at that time would have appealed the decision.
Bloomberg’s attorney’s actually cited the condemnation of homosexuality in Leviticus in making their case to the appeals court. And the high court in New York agreed with him, upholding the limitation on marriage in New York to man-woman couples.
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who was handling one of the other same-sex marriage cases in NY State, says that if Bloomberg had not appealed, all other cases could have been dropped and gay couples from all over the world would still be able to legally marry in New York City.
And get this: it was not until the day that Bloomberg announced his appeal that he perversely decided to declare himself FOR same-sex marriage. With friends like this, who needs enemies?
The marriage equality bill in New York may well pass this year and Bloomberg seems to be positioning himself as the man who will have brought it home. But the record shows that if it passes, it will have been in spite of Bloomberg who continues to fund anti-gay Republicans who also oppose our transgender rights bill and virtually every other progressive initiative in the state.
From outside of New York, Bloomberg may seem like a rare pro-gay Republican. (He is technically an Independent now but won his third term running as on the Independent and Republican lines.) But those of us who know him and have covered him for the last decade know very differently.
Bloomberg did sign a transgender rights bill in 2002. Since then, he has vetoed and obstructed virtually every piece of pro-gay legislation that has come before him. He vetoed a school anti-bullying bill, called it “silly,” and when the Council overrode his veto he ordered his Department of Education not to enforce it. Only recently has he introduced, under pressure, some form of anti-bullying program in the schools. We even get “Respect for All Week” every year now. A whole week!
Bloomberg also vetoed legislation that would have required city contractors to provide domestic partner benefits as San Francisco and other cities do. When he was overridden by the Council, he went to court and won the right not to enforce the law.
Bloomberg broke the progressive boycott of the anti-gay St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York and now defends City funding for three private, religious St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the boroughs outside Manhattan in direct contravention of City law on the use of taxpayer funds for solely religious purposes.
Bloomberg fancies himself a big promoter of public health and has even banned smoking in City parks. But HIV rates have risen during his administration and he steadfastly refuses to reinstate condom lessons in classrooms that were banned in the Giuliani era. This guy has a public health school named after him at Johns Hopkins and he acts as if he doesn’t understand the need for explicit AIDS education for young people who are the prime group contracting HIV today, especially gay youth of color. And if you are waiting for the integration of LGBT issues into school curricula in a system under sole mayoral control in New York, it ain’t happening under Bloomberg.
Talk is cheap. Bloomberg’s fine words are hollow unless he backs them up with the conviction that those who oppose our civil rights are not worthy of support no less millions of dollars in donations. Cutting NYS Senate Republicans off from his gravy train is the one thing that make them sit up, take notice, and do the right thing. But he refuses to do so.
It was depressing that in an entire audience of LGBT “leaders” invited by Bloomberg to hear his Cooper Union speech that no one challenged him to stop his unconscionable underwriting of the anti-gay Republican majority in the State Senate. Too much of our movement has been bought off by what is by comparison Bloomberg’s chump change.
Andy Humm has been a gay activist and journalist since 1974, co-hosting the national “Gay USA” cable show weekly since 1985, for the last 16 years with Ann Northrop. He is a former NYC Human Rights Commissioner and was one of the leaders of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights that brought home NYC’s lesbian and gay rights bill in 1986. He is a regular contributor to “Gay City News,” and has written the civil rights column for Gotham Gazette since 1999.