Legislature Departs Albany on an Upbeat Note (Go Figure!)
LGNY, June 30,
An Analysis Paul Schindler
In years past, the days leading up to the annual adjournment of the State Senate and
Assembly have provided familiar disappointments and even unpleasant surprises for the
lesbian and gay community. In a number of recent sessions, the Senate has left Albany
determinedly faithful to the Republican leaderships insistence that no vote be taken
on hate crimes and nondiscrimination measures that would include protections for our
community. In 1998, the mad dash for the door produced a draconian HIV names reporting and
partner notification bill that shattered a long standing consensus on the importance of
But last weeks conclusion of the 2000 session of the Legislature suggested that
something more might have gone down January 1 than the eradication of the Y2K bug.
In a whirlwind 24-hour period, the legislature came to final agreement on the
long-sought hate crimes law, different versions of which had earlier passed each chamber,
and the state repealed its archaic, if constitutionally moot, sodomy law.
The successful conclusion of the hate crimes effort was a bit anticlimactic, though
welcome to many, though not all, lesbian and gay activists. (Some activists, particularly
among people of color communities remain concerned about the implications of giving
greater discretion about enhanced crime penalties.) The big mo on hate crimes had
occurred several weeks earlier when Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, of upstate
Rensselaer near Albany, dropped his long standing obstinacy and allowed a floor vote on
As reported in the last issue of LGNY, Brunos change of heart was forced by an
escalating political campaign waged by the Hate Crimes Coalition, a group of more than 100
community groups and led by the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) and the Anti-Defamation
League (ADL), and backed up on the floor by Manhattan Senator Tom Duane, the only openly
gay member. With opinion polls showing ever larger majorities in support of the law, and
Republicans facing reversals in traditional strongholds such as Nassau County, advocates
for a law played on incumbents fears of retribution in November. In the end, 24 of
the Senates 36 Republicans voted in favor of the bill.
Still, supporters fretted that something might come unglued as the Senate tried to iron
out differences between its bill, put forward by Republican Governor George Pataki, and
the Assemblys (read Democratic) version. ADLs Howie Katz and ESPAs Matt
Foreman and Tim Sweeney have tales of 11th hour scurrying to keep the measure on track.
Katz said he received assurances that the Catholic Conference, in years past a foe of
measures offering lesbians and gays protections, had sidelined itself this year, but
worried that an ego clash between Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (Lower East
Side) might do in the effort. Katz explained that a version that largely tracked the
Governors proposal, but whose legislative history identifies it as an Assembly bill,
provided the face-saving indispensable only to the truly powerful. The bill passed in the
early morning hours June 23 as the legislators were checking traffic reports on the
For all but the truly wonkish, the sodomy repeal came as something more of a - does
pleasant really do justice to the feeling? - surprise. Advocates working on the issue of
sexual assault had been pushing all session for a major reform of state laws concerning
rape and other sexual violence. In tandem with that effort, ESPA worked to remove the
states age-old ban on oral and anal sodomy between unmarried people. The
States Court of Appeals had ruled the law unconstitutional way back in 1980, but
according to ESPA that did not preclude a certain amount of coercive official mischief. In
isolated cases where a gay or lesbian couple was discovered doing it in a lovers
lane, police would charge them with sodomy to force them to cop to a lighter charge. With
the repeal, nobody can make the argument that we are lawbreakers by virtue of what we do
in bed. Bigots have lost another crutch.
About an hour before the Gay Pride March June 25, Duane, Foreman, Sweeney, and Katz met
with the press to outline the gains made in Albany this year. Asked how the hate
crimes bills passage would impact prospects for SONDA, the state nondiscrimination
law, also blocked year after year by the Senate Republicans, Duane said several recent
development boded well for progress next year.
"The hate crime bill opens up the opportunity to push SONDA out to the
floor," Duane argued. "Nobody can any longer say that state law doesnt
include the category of sexual orientation."
Duane added, "The removal of the sodomy statute also eliminates any lingering
criminal stigma" surrounding lesbians and gay men that in the past has posed
obstacles to consideration of equal rights.
[Home] [News] [New York]