Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Independents Hold Firm: Call For Gay Rights Referendum

As Liz is reporting, the three independent Democrats who have refused to support Malcolm Smith for majority leader, met in the Bronx yesterday and recommitted to their independent status: "After a lengthy late-afternoon meeting, members of the Gang of Three remain united with no immediate plans to follow the lead of their erstwhile compatriot, Senator-elect Hiram Monserrate, who endorsed Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith for majority leader over the weekend."

In addition, the three also announced that they would be advocating that the entire issue of gay marriage be submitted to the voters in a referendum: "The biggest news to come out of the get-together, which took place at an Italian restaurant on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, is that the three Democrats - Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., Sen. Carl Kruger and Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr. - are calling for a referendum, rather than legislative action, on gay marriage. "Basically, they said if Malcolm thinks term limits changes should be decided by referendum, then why not gay marriage?" said a source close to the three."

At the same time Tom Duane, the leading proponent of the gay rights measure, came out swinging when Liz caught up with him yesterday-calling Senator Ruben Diaz a "bully" for his threats on the issue: "Sen. Tom Duane today accused Gang of Three member Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of being "a little bit of a bully" on same-sex marriage and said the Bronx Democrat is mistakenly working under an old model of how the Senate works by casting this as a make-or-break issue in the leadership battle. "It's absurd that Sen. Diaz thinks he can bully his way on this issue," Duane said. "That is just not the way the government is going to be in the new Senate."

But that's assuming that the leadership is firmly in Smith's hands-something that won't be known at least until next Friday when the three holdouts have pledged to reconvene. Certainly, there doesn't seem to be any namby pambies among the group-as Espada's comments to Liz indicate: "It's not about Malcolm or (Dean) Skelos. In fact, those two candidates may not be around as contenders for the leadership by the time the vote gets taken in January."

So the Duane agenda is currently on at least a temporary hold; while the senator waxes poetic about what to expect after the budget's put to bed: "Duane, the Senate's only openly-gay member, who has carried the marriage bill since 2001, toed the party line by saying that the first priority of the Democratic conference is to fix the state's fiscal crisis. Everything else - from rent regulation to Paid Family Leave to marriage - has to take a back seat for the foreseeable future, Duane said. "We'll get to all of them after the budget," the said. "It doesn't matter whether it's a gay family or a straight family, if someone can't make a living in New York State, they're not going to live here. I'm confident the Democratic agenda will move forward, but first we have to fix the economy."

Clearly, all of these messy issues and situations are a long way from any immediate resolution. And with the Republicans caucusing tomorrow in Albany, perhaps we'll see even more chaos coming into the mix. As Liz says: "They certainly have a lot to talk about."