It was as crowded a news conference as I've seen in quite a while. Thursday morning, New York State Governor David A. Paterson announced that he would introduce a bill to grant same-sex couples marriage equality. Yes, I know that Paterson's star has fallen quite a bit in political circles, but I was once again struck by his humility, humor and grace in explaining why he was introducing the bill now and not at a later date. This man who came to be governor due to unforeseen and extraordinary circumstances. This man who was handed a dysfunctional legislature and has struggled to pull it together. And yet, a man who stood by principle and kept his word in introducing this bill.
As for the press conference, it was wondrous in more ways than one.
For one thing, people who just hours earlier were criticising the governor for his renewed push for marriage equality were standing next to him, and legislators who would not have been caught a LGBT rights event just five years ago, were elbowing each other to stand behind Paterson for the photo op.
For another, it was striking that here was the state's first African-American governor making such a bold push for marriage equality, when often minorities are the first to be blamed as not being gay-friendly or supportive of LGBT rights. It also didn't escape me that among the people standing behind him were the first person of Asian descent to be elected to the City Council. John C. Liu, former councilmember Bill Perkins; and Latino US Representative José E. Serrano. A powerful visual, for those attuned to these things, that minorities are not monolithically homophobic as they are sometimes painted to be.
I bring this up because it is at times like these when local media go ga-ga over the homophobic rantings of a certain Pentecostal minister (and State Senator) named Rubén Diaz, Sr. He certainly makes good copy and - unfortunately - he has managed to find himself in a position where his one vote could deny equal rights to hundreds of New Yorkers.
And, like clockwork, there he was on Thursday morning, holding an "emergency meeting" of the New York Hispanic Clergy Association (more like a "Look at me! Look at me!" meeting, if you ask me).
As widely reported, Diaz used the media attention to bash Paterson and say that he would be organizing a series of Sunday mass activities in the month of May leading to a rally of thousands in opposition of the marriage bill. He also said he'd be calling for Governor Paterson to step down (so much for separation of church and state).
Given the Pastor's penchant for running his mouth off, it's not surprising that plans for the rally seemed vague, at best. But he has pulled one such rally in the past when 5,000 people showed up outside the Bronx Courthouse building.
Still, I remain unconvinced that the Reverend reaches much more than a fringe element even in Latino communities and believe that money, time and effort countering his rants and rallies would be better spent highlighting the support of people like José E. Serrano and finding allies among Republican Senate members to counter the anti-gay votes of a few homophobic Democrats.
Having said that, it is clear that calls to his office from LGBT rights proponents in recent months have gotten under his skin. From an interview he did on Thursday with New York 1 Noticias:
DIAZ: By picketing my office, by calling my office, by sending investigators, by calling me 'homophobic', by calling me - eh - whatever you want, by calling me personal names, they will never get me to change my view. There is no way.By the way, the guy responding on behalf of the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force? My great friend, Pedro Julio Serrano. He rocks! I'll be writing a bit more about him in my following post.
The only way that they will be able to get homosexual marriage: That more Democratic senators reach the Senate, and then my vote will not be necessary - and Governor Paterson is not helping out in that respect.
- Dem NY State Senator Ruben Diaz organizing anti-gay marriage equality rally (April 19, 2009)
- Bronx Senator organizing protest of marriage bill (New York Times, April 16, 2009)
- Bronx Dem rallies ministers against gay marriage (WNYC, April 16, 2009)
- Gay marriage foe to call for Governor's ouster (The Advocate, April 17, 2009)