Gay Marriage, a Touchy Issue, Touches Legislators’ Emotions
By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM, New York Times, June 21, 2007
ALBANY, June 20 — Teresa R. Sayward did not hesitate when she rose from her seat on Tuesday night to address her colleagues in the State Assembly. An observant Catholic from a small, conservative upstate town, she had rarely shared the story of her son, Glenn, 42, and his struggle to come to terms with his gay identity decades ago.
But she said the occasion — a chance to make New York the second state in the country to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage — called for a highly personal approach.
“We would spend long nights crying together and talking,” she told a full house of hushed lawmakers. “And one night I said to him, ‘You have to be what you are; you can’t be what people think you should be.’ ”
Ms. Sayward received resounding applause, and the bill later passed, 85-61. But in the Senate, where Joseph L. Bruno, the majority leader, opposes the bill, it is not expected to come to the floor.
Supporters of the bill had no illusions about its ultimate fate. But the Assembly chamber, usually abuzz with the white noise of Statehouse gossip and last-minute deal-making, stood silent on Tuesday night as members embarked on a three-hour debate that included tearful tales of family struggles and a gay-marriage proposal via cellphone.
The session, legislators said, was one of the most emotional in recent memory.
Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, the first openly lesbian member of the Assembly, who is known for her toughness behind the scenes, found herself choking up. “I love my partner and I want to know that if anything happens to me that she is protected,” Ms. Glick, a Manhattan Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said, her voice breaking slightly.
The tone ranged from the reverent to the comical. Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat and an observant Jew who said he opposed gay marriage on religious grounds, said he would not vote for the bill “unless God sends a message to me during the next two hours of the debate.” Moments later, thunder from a passing storm resonated in the chamber as lightning flashed outside.
Mr. Hikind chuckled when he was asked about the incident yesterday. “I was going to get up and say, ‘Hey guys, you get it? This is a message for you,’ ” he said.
As the debate ended, Assemblyman Matthew J. Titone, a Staten Island Democrat who is also gay, held up his cellphone and announced that his partner had just proposed. “Now everyone’s asking, ‘So when’s the wedding?’ ” Mr. Titone said yesterday, “and my response is, ‘We’ll have to ask Joe Bruno when it will be.’ ”
On the floor of the Assembly yesterday, having returned to more mundane matters of governance, Ms. Sayward said in an interview that she had not prepared her speech beforehand.
“I’m the mother. I just told my story,” she said, looking out on the chamber from her back-row perch. The speech was “difficult” to deliver, she said, only because of the reaction she expected from her heavily Catholic district, around Willsboro, near Lake Champlain.
“I have received some indications that I may not have the votes that I had the last time,” Ms. Sayward said.
Ms. Glick said she had not expected the debate to be so emotionally exhausting. “I also hadn’t realized how tense I was, and it was an enormous sense of relief,” she said.
She celebrated the vote with a small crowd of Democratic lawmakers at a restaurant. The soundtrack? Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Ms. Glick reported with a smile. “Most appropriate.”