By Denise Jewell Gee
April 11, 2011, 12:00 AM
Kitty Lambert never thought it would take this long. Maybe she was naive. Maybe she was too ambitious. Perhaps she simply underestimated New York’s capacity for inertia.
It was seven years ago that Lambert, fed up with the state’s refusal to allow her to marry her long-term partner, started OUTspoken for Equality. She marched on City Hall and organized rallies.
The 56-year-old mother thought it was inevitable. She thought she’d see gay marriage in New York State within a few years.
“It just seemed like it was such a reasonable thing to do,” Lambert said.
Lambert doesn’t think that what she and thousands of others are asking for should be that difficult. As she puts it, she doesn’t want to get married in your church; she wants to get married in hers. Or at City Hall. Or perhaps outside on a fall afternoon.
The point is, she wants equality under the law. She wants the same rights and protections that any straight couple can get with a$40 marriage license and a promise to have and to hold.
This may finally be her year.
It wasn’t a fluke that Lady Gaga uttered the name of a newly elected state senator during her stop last month in Buffalo. It wasn’t by chance that gay rights activists flooded cash into former State Sen. William T. Stachowski’s district last year after he voted against gay marriage. It’s no accident that Mario Batali, Julianne Moore and Barbara Bush have appeared in videos calling for same-sex marriage in New York.
There’s a movement under way, and those working behind the scenes may be more politically organized than ever before.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made it clear he wants to bring gay marriage to a vote again in the Legislature by June. Activists are counting up the votes needed to pass the State Senate, where a December 2009 vote defeated a previous bill to extend marriage rights.
There is no doubt that the 38-24 State Senate vote in 2009 was a defeat for gay-rights activists. But it put legislators on record. With the vote, advocates knew exactly who was on their side — and who to target in the 2010 elections.
Stachowski’s district was one of three across the state in which marriage equality activists focused resources. Fight Back New York, a political action committee working to elect pro-gay-marriage state senators, reported pouring $388,868 into the district to oppose Stachowski and, later, candidate Jack F. Quinn III.
A 28-year veteran in a fiercely anti-incumbent year, Stachowski already had a lot working against him. He was opposed by gay-rights groups and environmentalists.
But Fight Back New York wasted no time in claiming credit for his ouster. Its website features a picture of Stachowski with the word “defeated” across his face. “Hey Albany: Are you listening?”a head-line reads. “There are consequences for standing in the way of equality.”
This is not the work of a group that plans to go away quietly.
Lambert sees last year as a turning point for those working in Western New York to advance rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. “We’re getting politically savvy,” Lambert said.
There is still a fight ahead, and again this year, it’s going to be waged in the State Senate.
The longer state lawmakers wait, the more time and public opinion seem to be on the side of civil rights. A January poll by Quinnipiac University found that 56 percent of New York voters support legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Some day, we’ll look back and wonder what took so long.