On gay rights and same-sex marriage, Cuomo’s vision is national in scope

Andrew Cuomo at the Empire State Pride Agenda dinner. (Azi Paybarah)
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In his first major speech before a predominately lesbian, gay and transgender audience since passing New York's same-sex-marriage law, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out what he said is the next phase of the gay-rights agenda.

At the Empire State Pride Agenda's fall dinner in midtown Manhattan, Cuomo said it will include passing "real" anti-bullying legislation in Albany and getting LGBT people protected under federal anti-discrimination laws for housing and employment, and legalizing same-sex marriage in every state.

"Now, we are going to come with the rest of the equality agenda," Cuomo said.

"There are no federal anti-discrimination laws for housing, or for employment. DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] has to go away once and for all," Cuomo said.

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"And we need marriage equality in every state in this nation, otherwise no state really has marriage equality," he said. "And we will not rest until it is a reality."

 

Since becoming governor last year, Cuomo has been  very disciplined about limiting his talking points to New York-specific issues—even when his determined parochialism has looked suspiciously like a means of distancing himself from President Obama. He hasn't even left the state, physically, except when he drives through New Jersey on his way to Albany or to his family vacation home vacation upstate.

Even when the Human Rights Coalition—the national umbrella group associated with the Empire State Pride Agenda—sought to honor Cuomo for passing same-sex marriage, the governor politely declined to accept the award, since the event was in Washington. 

Last night's speech was explicitly national in scope. 

Still, after the event, when I asked Cuomo what the president could do to help get same-sex marriage passed in other states, he reverted to form.

"Far be it from me to give the president political or policy advice," Cuomo said, with convincing modesty.

Cuomo received a hero's welcome from the more than 1,000 guests in attendance.

He was introduced by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the New York's first openly gay citywide official. She said that by making such a pivotal piece of the LGBT agenda part of his first year's accomplishments, Cuomo, in essence, created "a game-changer for how every elected official has to view the issues of our community."

LGBT legislative issues "are no longer to be done in the final year in the last term you're in office. They're to be done immediately to define whether or not you're really committed to all Americans being equal," she said.

Then, appearing moved by the emotionally charged moment, Quinn looked directly at Cuomo from the brightly lit stage and said that he "forever changed the lives of people you will never meet."

"You have sent a message to children struggling to figure out their sexual orientation, you have sent them a message that they matter, that they're important, that their lives are worth something," she said. "Children who are in homes where they dare not say to their parents that they think they might be gay, children who are getting bullied in schools, you have literally given them a life preserver."

Quinn called it "an act of bravery and humanity and an act of ultimate, unselfish love for the people of New York State and the children of this country."

By the end of Cuomo's speech, his eyes appeared to glisten as he spoke about his father, former governor Mario Cuomo, and his 14-year-old daughter Michaela.

"She said your father gave you a legacy, and gave you a tradition and gave you a reputation because he was the voice for social justice," Cuomo said. "He fought the death penalty and he fought for a woman's right to choose and that is a gift that your father gave you, that you will alway have. She said, 'I am the daughter of Andrew Cuomo, the man who signed marriage equality into law, and that is a gift that you gave me.'"