People are always saying that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s support for marriage equality was a convenient turnaround done after she was appointed to Hillary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat in January of ’09. This site even felt that way in the beginning, since civil unions were the stated goal in Gillibrand’s 2006 congressional campaign. Frankly, after years of Clinton failing to come around to full marriage championing, we gay New Yorkers were just glad to finally have a U.S. Sen. on record for unqualified nuptial equality (Sen. Schumer would follow suit two months after Gillibrand’s appointment), so we just kind of went with the public evolution, whenever it might have started.
But today, New York’s Gay City News reminds us that the senator actually went on record a couple of months prior to the coveted appointment to fill Secretary Clinton’s pantsuits, coming out for personal marriage support on a conservative-leaning radio show, while running in a conservative district, at a time when it truly could’ve cost the then-congressperson in the polls:
Gillibrand’s Republican opponent has time and again made the charge that she flip-flopped politically on a number of key issues when she stepped into statewide office from a more conservative upstate congressional district. Surely, Gillibrand’s views on gun control, for example, have become more progressive, but the oft-repeated assertion that her support for marriage equality was a Senate-appointment conversion aimed at complying with a requirement from Governor David Paterson is simply not true.
Days before her first reelection contest in November 2008, Gillibrand announced her support for the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry on a radio program hosted by New York Post Albany bureau chief Fred Dicker. Shifting from a pro-civil union posture to endorsement of gay marriage three months earlier than supposed may not seem like a big deal, but it is a crucial distinction.
Gillibrand, who won in an upset in 2006 in a traditionally Republican district, was no sure bet for reelection –– and she had no reason to anticipate that November that a Senate vacancy was about to open up.
And Dicker’s radio show was certainly no friendly venue to announce embrace of full equality.
Our Picks for the US Senate and House [GCN]
GCN is right: This is a distinction worth noting. People across the nation think of New York as being this liberal enclave where pride flags fall from the sky and everyone’s doing shots with Andy Cohen and Bethenny Frankel at Nate Berkus’ fabulous gay engagement party. But in reality, New York’s peppered with some deep red. Then-Rep. Gillibrand was running in a very red district. And even though it was only two years ago, 11/08 was a very different marriage picture where far fewer Democrats had taken that next step in joining Feingold, Kennedy, and the handful of other prominent (D) “I dos.” So yeah: This is worth consideration.
Okay, so now enough with the past. Tuesday, let’s look toward the future.
*Update: The 10/23/08 Dicker Show transcript, via NYDN. It started at a more tentative place, but the personal heart eventually came out:
*Dicker:* On gay marriage, do you have a position on that?
*Gillibrand*: I think we should have a federal protection for civil
unions so that everyone can have the benefit of a private contract to
allow someone to go to the emergency room, to the hospital …..
*Dicker:* … I Understand that but …
*Gillibrand:* But I think the state should decide what to call it. If
the state wants to call it “marriage,” (then) the state can decide.
*Dicker:* As a voter in New York State, do you think the state should
legalize, as the governor would like and as Speaker Silver would like,
same sex marriage?
*Gillibrand:* Yeah, as a New Yorker, I would support that.
The Dicker Defense [NYDN]