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Bloomberg Commish ‘Misspoke’

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Martha Stark now concedes pre-election claim Lambda counseled marriage appeal untrue

Michael Adams, director of education and public affairs at Lambda, said the group never asked the mayor to appeal the case and that the only conversation between its executive director, Kevin Cathcart, and the mayor was a two-minute “courtesy call” from Bloomberg informing Lambda that he was fighting the historic ruling.

“He didn’t ask for our position,” Adams said. “It has never been our position that he should appeal the case.”

At the luncheon the Sunday before Election Day, Stark was representing the mayor and singing his praises. As she concluded her remarks, veteran Queens gay activist Brendan Fay shouted, “Tell him to drop the appeal.” Bloomberg’s legal battle against Justice Doris Ling Cohan’s February ruling infuriated LGBT activists, including Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, who called it “terrible for us” because it denies advocates the opportunity to demonstrate the prosaic example of thousands of validly married gay and lesbian couples at the time that the Court of Appeals finally considers the question for the entire state.

At P-FLAG, Stark said, “We need certainty from the courts. Lambda agreed with that. They asked the mayor to do the appeal. We actually spoke with Lambda before the appeal was filed because we needed the courts to rule.”

Stark also called the situation in San Francisco “pretty disappointing for people” after thousands of same-sex couples were licensed there by Mayor Gavin Newsom, only to have those marriages overturned in court. But Newsom was acting on his own, whereas Bloomberg would have been obeying a valid court order, a distinction Frank said was crucial.

Notably, Stark also told the Queens audience, “I actually hope the city loses the appeal.” She concluded her remarks by saying, “I was co-chair of Lambda for three years and actually we spoke with the mayor before the appeal was filed and did not disagree with that decision.”

“Litigation decisions don’t get discussed at the board level,” said Adams, adding that Stark, for whom he has “the highest regard,” was required to recuse herself on matters relating to the city anyway.

Daniel Dromm, an out gay district leader in Queens and co-founder of the P-FLAG chapter there, said, “I found it very hard to believe that what she said was the truth. I just didn’t believe Lambda would do that. I think she was just stumping for the mayor.”

Fay, founder of the Civil Marriage Trail and co-chair of the inclusive St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Queens, said, “Everyone was stunned by her statement. It would have meant that Lambda was responsible for preventing our families from getting the recognition they sought. She also misled people by comparing New York and San Francisco. I thought it was despicable. I think she owes P-FLAG an apology.”

Jesus Lebron, founder of Marriage Equality, said, “To place the blame on Lambda, who should be applauded for taking on the most hot-button issue of our time, is sinister and irresponsi­ble.”

Confronted with a transcript of her remarks from a videotape of the event, Stark wrote in an e-mail, “I misspoke. While it is not an excuse or a justification, I think I was caught off guard by the question and tried to offer the Martha Stark rationalization and explanation of the seemingly contradictory position of the city (where I work and have lived all my life) and Mayor (who I was honored to represent) and the organization whose board I had the pleasure of sitting on for seven years. I clearly did that inelegantly.”

Stark continued to conflate the San Francisco and New York situations in her e-mail. “While some might argue that Mayor Newsome [sic] did the honorable thing in marrying people and that Mayor B should have done this as well, I do not believe it would have served the community to have marriages later invalidated if a court ruled that the Mayor had no such authority.”

In her e-mail, Stark wrote, “What I did say was a real hodgepodge of my personal thoughts and observations as a person who wore several hats and I apologize.”

Bloomberg has not just asked for a clarification from the court, he is vigorously contesting Ling-Cohan’s decision, pointing to the importance of “fostering the traditional institution of marriage” and sustaining a mechanism of providing for “the financial and legal obligations parents bear for their children,” as though there are not tens of thousands of children in households headed by gay and lesbian couples. The city’s legal brief asserts that only the Legislature in Albany can change the domestic relations law.

James Esseks, litigation director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project that is working on one of the three other same-sex marriage cases in New York State, said, “You do need an answer from the court about whether or not gay people can get married. What I find disappointing is that [Bloomberg] isn’t just throwing it to the court and saying you guys figure this out. He is taking a purposeful strong stance that gay people should not be able to get married. Others aren’t. The mayor of Ithaca is on our side.”

Esseks said that had Bloomberg not appealed, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer might have moved to intervene, “but doesn’t have to do that if the state is acting unconstitu­tionally.” Esseks said that Spitzer, whose office is fighting the other state marriage cases, “is not on our side on this.”

Bloomberg claimed when he appealed that he was “already” lobbying the Legislature to change the law, but has offered no details of any such lobbying and has since taken the position that he will work for a marriage bill only if his appeal is successful.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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