Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nuances from last night's New York Marriage vote

The "Rev." State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr.

I don't know how many people noticed it, but the "Rev." State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., a pentacostalist minister who admits to having become "one flesh" with a second wife while his first wife is still alive, and admitted in an interview this week that it was wrong to do this, did his best last night to try to derail the well-organized procedure for the marriage vote in the State Senate.

It wasn't just the length of his comments, which went well over the stipulated two minutes. (To be sure, Senator Duane and others also exceeded two minutes in their own comments).  But in his halting English, he kept insisting that he was "laying aside the bill." He became agitated, and repeated several times that he was getting no respect, that he had said to "lay aside the bill."  He said he had a right to "lay aside the bill."

What Diaz did not seem to understand, was:

(a) he was recognized solely for the purpose of explaining his vote on the bill" - and

(b) that there had been a bit of ledgerdemain when the amendment and the bill were first taken up, that precluded Senator Diaz being able to lay the bill aside (i.e., put it off until later).

Last night's women's discussion group at my local LGBT center trooped into The LOFT's library rather than meet.  We were watching the internet livestream feed on a large monitor, hoping it wouldn't crash (it didn't), but wen the Assembly bills were first taken up, we noticed that they were being laid aside.  At first, some thought that meant that the bills were not going to get a vote, but without missing a beat, the president of the Senate continued with the repartee with majority leader skelos about there being a message from the governor at the desk, for each bill.

After having each been laid aside, the bills were then taken up on the basis of the governor's message of necessity - first the amendment, and then the main bill (the reverse of the order they had been taken up in the Assembly).

So, when Diaz tried to lay the bill aside, he couldn't, because the bills had already been laid aside once, and because he had not been recognized for the purpose of laying a bill aside but for explaining his vote.

It turns out that Diaz is as poor in his senate procedural rules as he is on interpreting the bible, or in his command of the English language.  As to the last, I hope he is more proficient in Spanish, even if I don't understand a word of it.

As to his feeling of not being respected, I am sure that he is going to repeat that - he was trying to use every trick he knew to keep the bill from being considered.

Then in the other things he said, he chastized the Republicans for not all marching in lock-step (something he, as a Democrat, has always had a hard time doing).  He complained that the Republicans were responsible for letting the bill go to a vote.

On that last point, I think is was not grounds for complaint, but for admiration, despite the fact that nearly all of them disapproved of the purpose of the bill.

As one of them pointed out, had they not let the bill go to a vote then, it would have come up in a couple of years, and when it came up again, it would not have all the "religious protections" they were able to build into it.

Before the final language came out yesterday, I was quite frankly worried that the poison pill provisions were going to be wayy more onorous than they were.  I grant that the in terrorem clause (the one that invalidates the whole law in the event one provision is set aside by a court) was way over the top, but not totally unexpected.

Essentially, on the issue of marriage, the proponents and opponents are so polarized, that no one on either side trusts the motivations of the "other side."  We are fond of demonizing each other. 

Diaz showed that he was possibly the only member of the Senate not willing to lay that aside in the chamber and move forward.

Unlike the advocates on both sides, like me, who operate outside the chamber, the senators have the responsibility of actually making the law, despite their sometimes almost insurmountable differences.

Some senators, mostly Democrats, were justly pushing for the extension of the connubium of marriage on a gender neutral basis.

Other Senators, mostly Republicans, were justly (and with the bill safely passed, I can state this) trying to protect their religious institutions from what they perceived as an assault that goes against their most deeply-held religious views.

Frankly, I do believe the Republican majority is well aware of the fact that 2012 may be the last time they have a majority in the near future, so they set out to get the best deal they could get, to protect the mostly religion-based interests of the opponents,knowing that in 2013, a democratic majority senate could pass marriage without all the bells and whistles that were written into this bill.

I don't really think the bells and whistles were wholly necessary, though I can understand the fears that led to their adoption.

While I really do see the concerns of the opponents to be rooted in bigotry and prejudice, I can admire the way a few of the Republicans were able to negotiate a deal with the Governor to work a way to get the bill passed in a way that could reasonably protect the religious prejudice without harming the legal rights of the proponents.  I also have to admire the willingness of  most of the 28 Republicans who voted no on the main bill, to allow it to go to a vote.  I only wish that they would have used the amendment that was voted on first, to signal who they were - that they were among the at least 17 in the majority conference that were needed to let the bill get the vote.

And that is the truth.  If there were not 17 members of the majority who understood that there were enough votes for the bill to pass, and were at least comfortable with, if not fully satisfied by the "religious protections" that had been negotiated (what I still tend to call a poison pill even though it did not turn out to be fatal"), there would have been no vote last night.

Last night's vote was the result of the democratic process at work - not a perfect bill for either side, but one that gave each the things that they needed the most.

A victory for "our side," and, though they may not want to admit it openly, a victory for "them," too.

Diaz, though, made it clear that he was not part of any solution, only part of the problem.

Like Archbishop Dolan, he will not acknowledge the victory that the opponents won on religious protections.

State Senator Greg Ball
Senator Greg Ball wanted more of a poison pill.  And to be honest, I don't know if he was willing to let it go to a vote as it was.  His principal role in the past couple of days was to signal to me that the poison pill provisions were not going to be fatal, when he announced his NO vote in advance. 

Senator Tom Duane, who in the moment of victory took the time to call for passage of GENDA next, was gracious - he chivalrously referred to all of his colleagues as heroes for their work in the process, even those who voted agaisnt the bill, even Diaz.

So, the marriage canary tells me that the only hope for GENDA next year would be if there is something the Republicans feel a need to do to protect some legitimate constituency of theirs.  Sadly, the way the opposition to GENDA is shaping up, I don't think there is anything that we can offer in compromise.  All we want is the same protection that has been provided to other minorities under the hate crimes and human rights laws.

The trans community has to organize and lead the charge for GENDA.  I am hopeful that we will not be forgotten by the marriage people, but many of them will be moving on to other states and to federal issues,  Some, however, will do everything they can to help us out - but we have to find a way to take the lead.

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