A Post by Albany Intern Geoff Corey
Pride Agenda staff and volunteers have survived a chaotic week of demonstrating outside the Senate chambers. We joined other marriage supporters, including coalition partners from New Yorkers United for Marriage and Queer Rising, in making our voices heard throughout the Capitol. It began on Monday, June 20. Upon arriving at the Capitol, we realized that opponents of marriage equality had filled the halls, and they brought with them signs, holy books and songs. At first we stood silently. We held our signs in the air so that everyone walking by knew both sides were represented. Yet our silent signs couldn’t drown out the choirs from conservative churches, who sang so loudly their voices echoed throughout the building.
With less than 24 hours notice, we held a Rally for Love & Marriage on Tuesday to counter the force of the opposition, but it was the conflicts in the Capitol that garnered the most attention. We couldn’t stand side-by-side with the opposition for long before they tried to tell us that being LGBT was a disease that God could cure. Silence was no longer an option. Rival chants broke out. We yelled in one voice, “God loves all! God loves all!” They yelled back “Turn from sin! Turn from sin!” Soon we were telling them to “Turn from hate! Turn from hate!” The chanting went back and forth and sometimes two people would get in heated discussions right outside the room where Republicans were meeting to decide the fate of marriage equality, but we encouraged our supporters to avoid engaging directly with the opposition and to keep our efforts focused on telling our story to our legislators.
Our voices soon became weak and hoarse. Senator Espaillat emerged from the Senate chamber to pass out water. Senator Duane often walked by and thanked us, as did Assemblymember O’Donnell. We grew tired of standing and yelling, but soon after things would quiet down a new group of marriage equality opponents would show up with new signs and new songs. We soon sang songs of our own. We had song leaders lead us in “This Little Light of Mine” and we passed out the words to a song that’s main lyric is “I told hatred to get thee behind. Love today is mine.” We did the same thing everyday and always expected an announcement from Senate Republicans about a vote, but each day ended with disappointment.
Then, on Friday June 24, we got word from multiple sources that a vote was to be held that night. It looked like the wind was blowing in our direction, but the back and forth chants continued. State troopers blocked anyone from standing outside the meeting rooms where we had been demonstrating all week, so we crowded the stairwell, which caused our voices to echo throughout the Capitol so everyone could hear us singing, “Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.” Some crammed into the Senate chamber to watch the vote. Most sat outside or continued chanting in the stairwell.
Things moved quickly. Nervous smiles spread through the gallery as we realized that Senators Stephen Saland and Mark Grisanti would provide the votes we needed. The votes to end marriage discrimination and allow all loving couples to marry in New York. The votes to move New York in a progressive direction once again. The votes to make history.
Lt. Governor Duffy called for a vote. Everyone squeezed each other’s hands as we sat in silence.
Then we heard it, “Ayes 33, nays 29 the bill is passed.” The tiny galleries erupted in thunderous cheers and applause. There was nowhere you could stand in the entire Capitol building without hearing the whoops and cheers of our supporters. Despite our strained voices we cheered with joy at the top of our lungs. The Senate had finally read our signs, heard our calls, and heeded our chants.
We flooded the main staircase, hugging and congratulating everyone we saw whether we knew the person or not. Activists young and old cried with smiles on our faces. All of us had been in it together, and had won a major victory together. A lone voice suddenly yelled out, “Show me what democracy looks like!” and received a thunderous response of, “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” It was a chant we had done throughout the week with no promise that our democracy would bring about equality. That night, however, it did.
Couples kissed and embraced. Some had been together over 30 years. Some had just recently met. All of them wept with joy. We have won a large victory, but the fight for equality and justice isn’t over. Until we pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, our transgender allies will still be discriminated against in the workplace, in their homes, and in public accommodations. The National Organization for (straight only) Marriage is pledging $2 million to defeat the courageous Republicans who stood up for our rights. So there will be more marching, organizing, and letter writing to come, but for now we can rejoice in knowing that marriage equality has passed, and we are one giant leap closer to achieving equality and justice for all.
Photos (in order) by Eric Krupke, Sheilah Sable, and Kiki Vassilakis.