BY PAUL SCHINDLER | In his January 5 inaugural State of the State speech at the Capitol in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo renewed his commitment to push for equal marriage rights, saying, “We believe in justice for all, then let’s pass marriage equality this year once and for all.”
The new governor’s mention of marriage equality brought praise from the Empire State Pride Agenda, the statewide gay lobby group. “The Pride Agenda is very pleased that Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address specifically included LGBT New Yorkers in his vision of a great Empire State,” said Ross Levi, ESPA’s executive director. “He has strongly and repeatedly shown his support for LGBT fairness and equality, and the affirmation today of his commitment to see marriage for loving same-sex couples become law in New York State is another indication of that support.”
At ESPA’s annual Manhattan fall dinner this past October 14, candidate Cuomo said, “I want to be the governor who signs the law that makes marriage equality a reality in the State of New York, and we are going to get that done together.”
Marriage equality has been approved by the heavily Democratic Assembly three times since 2007, but was rejected by the Senate in a 38-24 vote in December 2009. Since then, the number of public supporters of equal marriage rights in the Senate has increased to 26, but Republicans, who voted “no” 30-0 in 2009, have recaptured the Senate.
In an October 12 appearance before the Log Cabin Republicans in Manhattan, however, Long Island Republican Dean Skelos, the new majority leader, voiced a willingness to have the Senate consider the marriage equality bill again. “I think our conference would say, ‘Put it up, let it up,’” he told the group.
As Cuomo struggles to get control of a state budget currently facing large deficits, he is widely expected to work closely with the Senate Republican majority to challenge the more liberal Democratic Assembly.
ESPA also praised Cuomo for renewing the executive order issued by former Governor David Paterson last year prohibiting discrimination in state employment on the basis of gender identity and expression. Like marriage equality, a transgender civil rights bill has been stalled in the Senate because of strong Republican opposition.
The Pride Agenda noted the governor’s appointment of Alphonso David to the post of deputy secretary for civil rights. A former staff attorney at Lambda Legal, David also served Cuomo during his tenure as attorney general in a civil rights post.
On January 17, the Cuomo administration announced the appointment of Erik Bottcher as a special assistant for community affairs. Bottcher previously worked as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s LGBT and HIV/ AIDS liaison.
The release announcing the appointment quotes Cuomo saying that, as a Council staffer, Bottcher, who worked on LGBT issues in the governor’s fall campaign, “was instrumental in advancing New York City’s progressive agenda. His experience in public service will be essential to my administration as we move forward.”
Noting the contribution Bottcher made to the City Council’s advocacy of a state legislative proposal to cap the rents paid by more than 10,000 New Yorkers living with AIDS and on public assistance at 30 percent of their income, the AIDS housing group Vocal New York praised him for his “knowledge and commitment” on the issue of homelessness in that population.
Paterson vetoed the 30 percent cap measure, but advocates are hopeful of advancing it under Cuomo.