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New Yorkers take a look at what went wrong — and look warily at the new law’s religious exemptions.
BY BRIAN FRAGA
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York’s Catholic bishops have called on the Empire State’s faithful to renew their appreciation for authentic, sacramental marriage in the wake of New York becoming the sixth and largest state in the country to legalize same-sex “marriage.”
“The Church fought this with everything we had,” said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York Catholic Conference, the public-policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.
On the night of June 24, the New York Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act by a vote of 33-29 following days of closed-door negotiations between the Senate’s Republican leadership and the Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who championed the same-sex “marriage” cause and coordinated legislative strategy from his Albany office.
Cuomo signed the law the same night the Senate approved the bill, which had already passed the Democratically controlled General Assembly on June 15. The law will take effect 30 days from the governor’s signature.
Several senators who had previously voted against legalizing same-sex “marriage” in 2009 changed their votes this time around after what opponents of the measure said were weeks of intense campaigning by the homosexual lobby, which outspent the opposition and enjoyed the backing of celebrities and wealthy individuals such as Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York City.
“We were outgunned in terms of money, and money buys a lot of things, including votes,” said Poust.
Michael Long, the chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State who opposed the Marriage Equality Act, said four Republican senators who voted for the bill will never again have his party’s endorsement.
“We’ve got to let the dust settle, but the first thing we have to do is replace four senators,” Long said.
The four Republicans Long mentioned by name were James Alesi of Monroe County, Roy McDonald of Saratoga County, Stephen Saland of Columbia and Dutchess counties, and Mark Grisanti, who represents parts of Erie and Niagara counties.
Cuomo, Bloomberg and other high-profile same-sex “marriage” supporters personally lobbied the senators for their votes.
Though some observers, such as Long, suspected that the governor offered favors in exchange for legislative support, Alesi told WHAM TV in Rochester that he received no deal and that his decision came down to civil rights.
“I made a deal with myself — and that I would be true to my heart and true to myself. That’s the deal I made,” Alesi said.
Saland and Grisanti released prepared statements in which they explained that they came to support the legislation after wrangling with the arguments and reaching the conclusion that the bill was a matter of basic fairness and justice.
Saland said: “My intellectual and emotional journey has at last ended. I must define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality in the definition of law as it pertains to marriage. To do otherwise would fly in the face of my upbringing.”
McDonald did not issue a statement on his vote, and his office did not return an e-mail seeking comment.
Grisanti said he believed that “all New Yorkers should be entitled to the same rights that come with a civil marriage.” He also said he voted for the bill after analyzing late amendments that provided exemptions for churches, synagogues, mosques and their affiliated organizations so that they would not have to ordain or materially cooperate with same-sex “marriage.”
“Passage of this bill now rather than later ensures that these protections be included,” Grisanti said.
Senate Republicans negotiated with Cuomo over the religious-exemption language. Observers said those amendments gave the Republican lawmakers political cover to support the legislation.
The exemptions say that clergy who oppose same-sex unions do not have to preside over such wedding ceremonies, and that their refusal to do so will not create a civil claim or cause for action by the state.
Religiously affiliated corporations will not have to provide services to same-sex couples, while benevolent organizations such as the Knights of Columbus are exempted from having to rent out banquet halls and facilities for same-sex weddings.
New Yorkers United for Marriage, a coalition of five homosexual-rights organizations that worked with the governor to pass the bill, issued a statement endorsing the amended exemption language ahead of the Senate vote.
The statement said: “The amended ‘Marriage Equality’ legislation protects religious liberties without creating any special exceptions that would penalize same-sex couples or treat them unequally. The legislation strikes an appropriate balance that allows all loving, committed couples to marry while preserving religious freedom.”
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which supported the Marriage Equality Act, said the religious exemptions were in line with other states’ laws that have already legalized same-sex “marriage.”
“It’s very narrowly limited to corporations and entities under religious control,” Lieberman said. “We don’t see this as creating new rights that would be inappropriate. We’re confident that the law as written will survive any legal challenges.”
Opponents of the act, which as written would be nullified if a judge rules any part of it to be unconstitutional, say the religious-exemption protections are inadequate.
“What man puts into a law, man can take out,” Long said. “What happens in legislatures, a liberal judge can rule unconstitutional.”
“The extra language does nothing to protect individuals, such as individual business owners or licensed Catholic marriage counselors who may have religious objections to same-sex ‘marriage,’” Poust said.
“These are exemptions to a terrible policy that will further break down marriage and family. It’s a tragedy, no matter how much they try to throw us a bone.”
Rev. Duane Motley, Baptist minister and founder and senior lobbyist of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, and other evangelical Christians lobbied Albany lawmakers for weeks to vote against the measure. Motley said the law’s religious exemptions “don’t do anything.”
“All they did was embellish the language that was already there,” he said. “They don’t protect faith-based agencies that are not under a church umbrella. There is no protection for individuals like town clerks or justices of the peace or for florists, photographers, caterers, ex-gay counseling services. It’s no good at all.”
No Plans to Challenge Law
Motley was especially critical of what he felt was an inadequate and halfhearted lobbying effort from New York’s Catholic community.
“They were certainly not out in front,” he said. “They claimed their bishops made some phone calls, and that may have been, but I see no evidence that it swayed anybody. It would have done more good for them to be seen up there [in Albany], touching flesh, meeting people one-on-one.”
A June 25 New York Times news analysis on the same-sex “marriage” drive said that the Catholic Church, “arguably the only institution with the authority and reach to derail same-sex marriage, seemed to shrink from the fight.”
The Times reported that Cuomo had taken steps to “blunt” the Church’s opposition and that he even invited Church lawyers to his office to vent their frustrations with the bill. The article noted that New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan left the state before lawmakers took up the bill. The archbishop, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, presided over the bishops’ General Assembly meeting in Seattle June 15-17. Archbishop Dolan called into an Albany radio station to argue against the bill and had Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to New York meet with lawmakers.
The Times further said: “It was clear the Church had been outmaneuvered by the highly organized same-sex marriage coalition, with its sprawling field team, and, especially, its Wall Street donors.”
Poust said The Times’ article was “not accurate” in saying the Church had been outmaneuvered; he also said he had been quoted out of context when commenting on the bill’s opponents being “outgunned” in terms of money.
“We had thousands and thousands of Catholics from every legislative district calling senators, emailing senators. Their offices were flooded with calls and emails from our people. That’s how we get things done,” Poust said.
With fewer lawmakers professing an orthodox Catholic faith, Poust said the aim was having enough constituents telling their senators to not vote for the Marriage Equality Act.
“We’re past the point that a single bishop can stop a bill,” Poust said, adding that the Catholic bishops have no current plans to challenge the law.
Instead, on June 27, the state’s bishops issued an eight-paragraph statement to Catholic New Yorkers expressing their “deep disappointment” with the legislative outcome, but adding that they were “heartened by the vigor with which so many faithful Catholic New Yorkers fought to preserve the true meaning of marriage.”
The bishops said: “While our culture seems to have lost a basic understanding of marriage, we Catholics must not. ... Let this moment where marriage is being attacked from without become a moment of renewal from within — in our Church, in our communities and in our families — where marriage is indelibly marked by fidelity, sacrifice and the mutual love of husband and wife leading to children.”
Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from New Bedford, Massachusetts.