Marriage Equality Bill Passes, Grisanti Votes Yes
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:24 am, June 25, 2011
State Senator Mark Grisanti voted yes last night, and as a result marriage equality is at last a law in New York State. New York becomes the sixth state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.
Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy presided over Friday’s session. The final vote was 33-29.
Grisanti, a Democrat who turned Republican to win his seat last year, did not tip his hand until the bill came to the floor, claiming to be conflicted: His personal beliefs instructed him to oppose same-sex marriage, Grisanti said, while his training as an attorney instructed him that all people should be accorded equal treatment under the law.
In fact, his public equivocations on the issue in the weeks leading up to the vote were a tell: Grisanti had changed his position. He was going to vote yes. His refusal to say so, especially in the last two weeks when he’d already made up his mind, was meant to postpone the blowback he’d experience from conservative interests.
The pressure on all senators has been withering. In the past couple weeks, Grisanti’s office has been inundated with phone calls, sometimes as many as 200 an hour, according to his Buffalo staff. The majority of the calls came from opponents of marriage equality, many from outside the state, corralled by national right-wing organizations. On June 16, Bob McCarthy, political reporter for the Buffalo News, filed a piece in which Ralph Lorigo, the chair of the Erie County Conservative Party indicated that Grisanti would lose his party’s endorsement if he voted yes on gay marriage. (McCarthy, God bless him, had the presence of mind to ask Lorigo why the pro-marriage-equality positions of State Senator Tim Kennedy and Assemblyman Mark Schroeder did not disqualify them for the Conservative endorsement, revealing Lorigo’s doctrinal, if not political, inconsistency.) That same evening, opponents of marriage equality began circulating a letter Grisanti sent to African-American ministers during his 2010 campaign, pledging to vote against gay marriage. Grisanti’s opponent, incumbent Democrat Antoine Thompson, had been a proponent of marriage equality, and Grisanti sought—successfully—to cool support for Thompson in his own community by using the issue as a wedge. It was widely reported that the Sunday before the general election last November, many black ministers did not encourage their parishioners to go to the polls and vote for Thompson, and the turnout on Buffalo’s East Side especially was lighter than Thompson might have hoped, allowing Grisanti to edge out the incumbent with heavy support from North Buffalo and Niagara County.
Grisanti is not exactly a complicated guy, but there seem to be some rules about how you sell him an idea. Present him with facts and a persuasive but friendly argument about how to interpret them, and he’ll consider your position. Try to bully him or threaten him, and his spine stiffens: He’ll go the opposite way in reaction. Proponents of gay marriage tried both approaches, and the latter prevailed. Lorigo and whoever threw Grisanti’s previous position in his face last Thursday probably only strengthened his resolve.
The political consequences for Grisanti are real. Let’s look at them:
1. He’ll lose the Conservative endorsement and many conservative voters, regardless of party affiliation. That could hurt; his margin of victory was razor thin last year, and every vote counts. My guess is he’ll pick up far more supporters than he loses as a consequence of this vote. Time will tell.
2. He’ll lose the black ministers. I don’t think this is a big deal, either, because he never really had them: They might not have rallied around Antoine Thompson last fall, but I’ll bet they’d have rallied around another African-American Democrat next year, gay marriage or no.
3. He’ll have earned the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo doesn’t care if the State Senate is Republican or Democrat. Indeed, he probably likes having control of the legislature divided. I will be shocked if Grisanti has not earned some sort of payback from the governor’s office in exchange for his yes vote.
4. He’ll have won over the LGBTQ community. Depending on redistricting, that’s a pretty good support group to have. In Buffalo, the gay community is active and it votes.
5. He’ll have alienated some Republican leaders. Loss of local Republican support, if it happens, is nothing to fret over: The local Republican Party did not help Grisanti’s campaign until the late last minute, and the absence of Republican hacks on his staff says all you need to know about his sense of obligation to Nick Langworthy, et al. He is openly critical of Erie County Executive Chris Collins. The only local Republicans to whom Grisanti feels obliged are State Senator George Maziarz and Joel Giambra, the former Erie County executive turned lobbyist.
Moments after the vote, Langworthy sent out this tweet: “I’m deeply disappointed my state senator is going back on the word he gave the people who supported and voted for him.”
To which a Grisanti supporter replied, “Now I’ll bet you wish you had supported him, you moron.”
Which brings us to…
6. Like we wrote back when he was first elected, Grisanti ought to seriously consider changing his registration. His district is heavily Democratic and is likely to remain so after redistricting—so much so that Grisanti might fare better by continuing to act like a Democrat, or actually changing his party affiliation, than by trying to assuage Republicans and Conservatives.