Friday, July 13, 2007

Soulforce in NYC and Protecting the lawmakers who stood up for us

Joe Tarver attended last night's PFAW/Soulforce-sponsored panel discussion with Danny O'Donnell and Tom Duane. He had the following to report back:

Last night as a prelude to Soulforce’s Right to Marry campaign, People For the American Way (PFAW) and Soulforce NYC sponsored a discussion with State Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell to talk about the progress and prospect of marriage equality in New York. Gay City News Editor in Chief Paul Schindler moderated the discussion.

PFAW’s office in Manhattan’s Flatiron District was packed with more than 100 people who came to hear Duane and O’Donnell and meet some of the Soulforce students and activists who will be fanning out across New York in four separate contingents starting this Sunday. With the Assembly passing marriage legislation on June 19, the mood was upbeat and celebratory. Several LGBT community allies were there, including the Upper West Side synagogue B’nai Jeshurun, staff from the office of U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler and, of course, PFAW.

Assemblymember O’Donnell talked to us about what it meant as a gay man to lobby his fellow Assemblymembers for the ability to marry his longterm partner John Banta. He stressed how his being able to make the issue personal with his colleagues was a key reason 85 Assemblymembers voted to pass the bill. We agree. O’Donnell’s hard work and telling his personal story Assemblymember-to-Assemblymember made a difference in our community’s campaign to pass the bill.

O’Donnell reminded us all that, despite the victory, work with the Assembly must continue. Elections are next year and he urged everyone to remember those who supported us during the June 19 vote and to be there for them. He named four Assemblymembers who did the right thing and voted for the marriage bill despite knowing that there could be concern over their votes back in their districts: Assemblymembers Albert Stirpe, Jr. (D-North Syracuse), RoAnn DeStito (D-Rome), Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island) and Janele Hyer-Spencer (D-Staten Island). These (and other) Assemblymembers should know that, come election time, the Pride Agenda will not forget their courage and leadership on this issue.

Senator Duane, who will be our community’s point person for the campaign to pass the bill in the State Senate, told everyone that it’s possible to get the current Republican Majority to take up the bill and pass it, but that it would be easier with a Democratic Majority in place. (The margin of Republicans to Democrats in the Senate is now down to a very slim two seats.) He emphasized how important it will be to continue building support for marriage with straight allies and highlighted how the Pride Agenda’s work building religious and labor support for marriage equality had changed the way the issue was viewed in Albany. Duane urged the activists in the room with Soulforce’s Right to Marry campaign to focus on the personal aspect of why marriage matters when they meet with elected officials across the state these next two weeks.

Both O’Donnell and Duane noted how much having Governor Spitzer’s support for marriage equality had shifted the political terrain in New York State on marriage equality.

For more information on Soulforce’s Right to Marry campaign and the kickoff this Sunday in Albany, go here. We’ll try to give you a few updates as they make their way through New York.

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