Tuesday, November 18, 2008

With Friends Like These

Malcolm Smith is generating a great deal of support for his leadership bid-but it's from gay rights activists who are more than likely to hinder the senator's efforts to cobble together enough votes to reach his goal. The reason, as Liz B points out, is that the gay rights pressure is sure to harden the Reverend Diaz's position: "Diaz is also the target of another kind of (probably unwelcome) attention from a new (and rather exhaustively-titled) Facebook page called "Stop a Marriage Referendum in New York: Malcolm Smith for Majority Leader."

The kind of in your face tactics that the gay groups are utilizing is a good way to solidify the base; but a poor method to win over opponents like Diaz-who represents a district where the strength of the gay rights movement is fairly non existent. And the anger at Diaz is definitely counterproductive for Smith: "Officers of the group include a number of well-known LGBT activists like Ethan Geto, Stonewall Democrats Matthew Carlin, Corey Johnson, and the page's creator, Jeff Campagna, a producer and activist, who wrote: "I am furious that the obstacle standing between us and marriage equality is a Democratic state senator named Ruben Diaz Sr., from the Bronx, who with his two friends Senators Carl Kruger and Pedro Espada Jr., also Democrats, is threatening to stand with the Republicans to block Malcolm Smith from becoming Senate Majority Leader in January."

The gay activists, seeing the results of Proposition 8 in California, are very concerned about the impact of a possible referendum; and are ready to go to war with the senator: "But Ruben Diaz Sr. isn’t just threatening to block Malcolm Smith from being majority leader. He’s so obsessed with gay marriage that he’s trying to figure out how to bring Proposition 8 to the ballot in New York...Maybe Senator Diaz thinks that we’re all going to let this pass and walk on eggshells as he plays power games with his Senate colleagues. We have before. Remember when we cheered the passage of a sexual orientation non-discrimination act that was stripped of protections for gender expression because we didn’t want to rock the boat?"

As part of the campaign on Smith's behalf, supporters of gay marriage are encouraged to contact Diaz's office: "Both on Facebook and at an anti-Prop 8 rally outside City Hall last week, Campagna urged gay marriage supporters to contact Diaz Sr. and urge him to support Smith. At the rally, he called on everyone present to pull out their cell phones and program in the senator's office number, which he yelled out from the podium."

And Diaz also took some shots from El Diario, whose advocacy on the gay rights issue probably puts it at odds with the majority of its readers; and the paper conflates opposition to gay marriage with a violation of the separation of church and state: "Rev. Diaz and others are supposedly not for denying rights to gays and lesbians but believe that marriage should be between a man and woman. Yet, it’s this very discriminatory position that serves to exclude lesbian and gay couples from obtaining the rights, benefits and standing that heterosexuals take for granted."

And further: "This use of religious beliefs to block basic civil rights undermines the separation of church and state in this nation. The basis of that separation lies in the experience of early American colonists who had fled religious persecution elsewhere to pursue tolerance, acceptance and freedom in the “new” world."

This argument totally misrepresents the fact that the Judeo-Christian ethic underpins a great many of our basic legal principles; and that fact has nothing to do with the establishment of religion. Arguing against a change in the law based on one's religious beliefs, however you see the relative merits of the law in question, is not a challenge to the separation clause of our constitution. In any case, it certainly is within the purview of the voters to weigh in on the question; and a referendum on this issue is as germane to democratic principles as the one for term limits.

But all of the effort to intimidate Diaz is likely to backfire; and the kinds of raucus public demonstrations that we've seen, are probably a poor way to advance the idea of gay marriage to folks like Diaz-and the many other New Yorkers who are not yet comfortable with the idea.