In the last two years there’s been a big change of heart in Southern Queens. The shift, revealed in polling by State Senators Joe Addabbo and Shirley Huntley, has the two Democratic Queens senators switching their votes on same-sex marriage.
On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo held a closed-door meeting with several state and city politicians to discuss the prospect of his Marriage Equality bill passing the state legislature. At 3 p.m., he held a press conference with Senators Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) Huntley (D-Jamaica) and Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), to announce that the three—all of whom voted against a marriage equality bill in 2009—had agreed to join Cuomo in his push to legalize gay marriage.
“As I’ve always said, I’ll try to take my personal views out of this issue as I listen to everyone,” Addabbo said at the press conference. “I will vote yes, based on the voice of my people.”
In 2009, both Addabbo and Huntley voted no, citing the will of their constituents. On Monday, both said their constituents’ opinions had shifted dramatically.
According to Addabbo spokesperson Judy Close, the results of an informal poll conducted in 2009 showed that 76 percent of respondents—tallied from roughly 400 residents that voluntarily contacted Addabbo’s office—were opposed to same-sex marriage legislation.
This year, Addabbo’s office conducted another poll and over the last two months 6,015 constituents responded—far more than enough to make the results statistically significant. Of the respondents, 4,839 (80 percent) said they would support same-sex marriage.
Addabbo said that his office created a database and periodically picked random responders to call back, making sure no one was forced to vote.
“There’s a huge change in position or feeling among many people,” Addabbo said. “This is not the way I was brought up so obviously marriage equality was tough for me to embrace. This was not about me. This was about the beliefs of the people. I was prepared to vote contrary to my beliefs if needed.”
Huntley’s office did not return a request for information about her poll, but she did say in a short statement at the press conference that 60 percent of her constituents that weighed in on the issue supported the marriage equality act.
“The numbers had changed,” she said. “With such a large number of constituents in favor of marriage equality … I decided to vote yes.”
However, some constituents are now calling on Addabbo to switch his position once again. On Wednesday morning, more than a dozen protestors from local churches demonstrated outside Addabbo’s Howard Beach office.
“People elected Senator Addabbo to get them jobs and to help them stay in their homes,” said Monsignor Kieran Harrington of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “Instead, they’re spending their last week in session pushing a radical social agenda.”
Randy McNeil, a Howard beach resident, arrived at the office to show support for Addabbo’s decision on same-sex marriage. “How can love be wrong? It’s nobody’s business what people do in their own home,” McNeil, a Howard Beach resident, said.
Addabbo and his staff stressed that his vote is still a constituent-based decision. Addabbo’s offices have been receiving increased opposition to marriage equality, but “the noes that are coming in are not close to the yesses that we received,” Addabbo told The Forum Wednesday afternoon. “And we are still receiving favorable comments.”
Currently, 29 of 30 Democratic senators plan to vote in favor of the bill. With the addition of Senator James Alesi (R-Monroe County), the first Republican to voice support, and Roy J. McDonald (R-Saratoga), who joined the fray late Tuesday evening, Cuomo’s bill only needs two additional Republican votes to pass.
Alesi stipulated that the bill must not force any religious organization or affiliate to take part in a same-sex marriage ceremony. The bill introduced by Cuomo on Tuesday specifies that no religious group can be held liable for refusing to provide services or rent facilities in relation to same-sex marriages.
It is rumored that at least a few other Republican senators are considering crossing the party line in favor of the marriage equality act. After meeting for four hours on Wednesday, and again on Thursday, Senate Republicans had yet to decide whether to vote on the act. The bill can go to vote as early as June 17.
When The Forum went to press, Cuomo had given approval to waive the three day waiting period required for bills and the State Assembly was preparing to vote on the legislation Wednesday night. The Assembly passed the bill, 80-63.
by David J. Harvey