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Marriage Equality Bill Passes, Grisanti Votes Yes

Filed under: Activism, LGBT, State Politics

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.

Mark Grisanti

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.


  • James Drenning

    Since when is it a chairman’s job to criticize an elected official of his own party?

  • Die Hard Democrat

    As a Die Hard Democrat and a HUGE “Buffalo Mike Gianaris Fan” I liked it better when Langworthy came around to supporting Grisanti. I also liked it a lot when he supported Domagalski, Jack Quinn III and Jane Corwin. No offense! …

  • Lancey Howard

    For 48 years I was against anything like this. Then one evening I spoke with Kitty Lambert and within a week I changed my mind about everything. Last night when the vote was cast I was wondering how different the world would be tomorrow.

    When I woke up, as far as I could tell, the Earth was still rotating, the Sun was in the center of the Solar System, a Robin was on my fence singing and I was still a Republican.

    I made a cup of coffee and read an old story Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago. It’s title? : “Much Ado About Nothing”

  • Patrick O’Leary

    Although I didn’t agree with Grisanti on this one I’m sure I’ll survive. I’m just glad it’s over. Now we’ll see if he could get the City out of way and clean Hoyt Lake!
    I hope Artvoice and the Buffalo News will look into “just what is the City’s problem with removing the water and air pollution?”
    Hello Mayor, we have a major health hazzard in the middle of the City…!

    Hello Mayor…Hello?…Hello?…Is there anybody out there?…Hello Mayor…?

  • RaChaCha

    Very interesting analysis!

    We need to stop allowing Mr. Lorigo to be the tail wagging the Republican (and all too often Democratic) dog. I would have loved hearing the breakfast conversation at Daisey’s this morning.

    My former mayor, Robert Duffy, did a good job last night presiding over the State Senate.

  • Cynthia Van Ness

    Thank you, Senator Grisanti. You did a brave thing. And you did the right thing. It is a pleasure to be proud of New York State government for once.

  • Lee McCluskey

    I am not even an American nor do I live in the USA but I stumbled on this article and as a Gay man in a relationship with an American and forced to live in the UK I was overjoyed to read this article.

    For this senator to go against his personal beliefs and with threats against him from his party and other groups only speaks of a great senator who can now be relied upon to do the right thing in the future according to the law. Those of you who threatened him should be ashamed of yourselves as what you did really amounts to racism against many millions of gay men and women in the USA. Had you said similar things or made similar threats about having a black president there would of been uproar. I wonder if there ever comes a time when a man or woman stands for president who was born being confined to a wheelchair would you make such threats and demands saying they are not able bodied then you would also be discriminative.

    I was born this way and I am no better a person or worse than the next. I would also like to know what harm or difference it makes to any one of you if I was in a same sex marriage, would the world or New York be such an intolerable place for you to live in tomorrow. Same sex marriage is recognised in many many places around the world now including the whole of my country would you not visit those places because it is recognised there? In parts of the world women are beheaded or publicly stoned to death for having an affair or even flirting with another man other than their husband now thats barbaric!!

    Homosexuality, two people of the same sex loving each other and wanting a legal union brings no harm to anyone other than the hurtful comments and actions of homophobes

  • Peter A Reese

    While Grisanti did the right thing on marriage equality, he fell on his face over UB2020. This seems to indicate he can handle simple issues, but not those which require him to read a couple of pages. He’s got a long way to go before I will support him.

    And now that this classic distraction issue is out of the way can we get back to some real concerns like a crumbling economy, huge public debt, staggering reductions in public services, etc? I don’t know about you, but I am gayed out or a while. Can we talk about something else?

  • Kyle Anderson

    Cripes sake there’s been enough about all this gay stuff. I think Grisanti voted correctly and hopefully ended all this B.S. I just hope he can refocus on Hoyt Lake and the shit job the Department of Transportation is doing on Grand Island!

  • Mike Dantonio

    Isn’t Langworthy Chis Collins’ bitch?

  • Sandra Christensen

    Senator Grisanti, Thank you for voting YES. I know this was a changed decision from your previous stance on gay and lesbian marriage. All I can say is thank you for being able to change and not adhere to age old beliefs. Change is good thing, without it I may be urged to sacrifice one of my children; murder my teenager for cursing me; and buy a few slaves from Mexico or Canada; although this is not a bad argument for those living in Arizona.

    He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.
    Harold Wilson

  • Tom Gleed

    Sen Mark Grisante has made what will go down in NYS history as one of the most important social and life changing votes this sate has ever witnessed. And he did it with great courage, conviction, and a purely Senatorial tenor! While there are those who claim he’s a single issue politician who’s will now fade away, I could not disaggree more. I believe when Sen Grisante catches his breath and looks at the past week in perspective I believe he will see clarly that he not only make the correct choice and did the right thing, he will also see that he’s a man cut from a very special cloth- and that his presenece in the Senate Chambers is the place for him to be. He found wisdon pretty fast- and I think he will be forever changed and bouyed by his actions. He can also rely on a new found legion of support- support that grows thrice: Me, my family, and firends form both sides of the isle! That multiplied by ??? will ensure his continued re-election!

    Thank you, Senator!

  • John

    Every once and a while the “gubmint” gets it right…….