Marriage Equality Comes to the Empire State

This is profoundly meaningful for so many reasons, but not least because New York is the state where the gay rights movement began.

The four Republicans who helped make this happen deserve enormous credit, and respect. One of them — Mark J. Grisanti, from Buffalo — “told his colleagues he had agonized for months before concluding he had been wrong.”

“I apologize for those who feel offended,” Mr. Grisanti said, adding, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife.”

Steve Benen notes that New York is one of only two states that legalized same-sex marriage voluntarily:

… New York joins Vermont as the only states in the nation that approved marriage equality because they wanted to— the others approved measures under court order. In other words, policymakers in New York, just as in Vermont, legalized same-sex marriage because they thought it was the right thing to do, not because a judge told them they had to.

That, I’d argue, makes success that much more meaningful.

Nate Silver has a fascinating and important piece at his Times column today about how Gov. Cuomo made this happen. The bottom line is that Cuomo decided that passing a same-sex marriage bill was a top priority, and then he used his popularity and his political savvy to come up with a focused, intelligent strategy to get it done. He didn’t say there wasn’t enough support for such a bill to get passed; he didn’t say his views on marriage equality were “evolving” (even though, over the years, they had); he did not use the excuse of organized religious and socially conservative and political opposition to give up or cede ground or announce that New York State needed a “centered” approach.

As a result, not only did New Yorkers get marriage equality, finally, but Cuomo now looks more presidential than the President:

I’m generally of the view that individual politicians receive both more credit and more blame than they deserve, with legislative and electoral outcomes usually determined by broad cultural, economic and political undercurrents. But the type of leadership that Mr. Cuomo exercised — setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it — is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president.

It’s also a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama.

Mr. Obama has some considerable achievements, including his health care bill and the reversal of the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers. But he often seems to achieve them by outsourcing much of the work to Democrats in Congress or to his various lieutenants. And his considerable speaking abilities sometimes seem to be directed more toward healing the country in times of crisis than toward persuading it to move in a new direction.

It’s a strategy that Mr. Obama’s critics and admirers have sometimes characterized as “leading from behind.” One could rightly argue that being president of the United States is an order of magnitude more difficult than being governor of New York, and that Mr. Obama’s performance has been fair to good under the circumstances. But his seemingly risk-averse approach roils many Democrats, even as most of them approve of his overall performance.

That Mr. Cuomo’s accomplishment pertains to same-sex marriage, an issue on which Mr. Obama has adopted an indecipherable position born of a cynical-seeming political calculus, makes the contrast sharper. And that it involved achieving cooperation from Republicans, something Mr. Obama has rarely received, makes it seem as though Mr. Cuomo has more effectively executed upon Mr. Obama’s “theory of change” than the president himself, demonstrating that articulating clear and unapologetic goals is not incompatible with persuading votes on the margins.

Nate links to this Times piece by Michael Barbaro, which explains at length how the “unlikely mix of forces” that Cuomo harnessed over the last two years led to last night’s stunning and historic result. I urge you to read it in full; it is quite instructive.

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