Two leaders in the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in New York stopped in New Paltz Friday on their walk across the state to garner support for the movement.
Ron Zacchi, executive director of Marriage Equality New York (MENY), and Fred Anguera, a board member of Marriage Equality New York Political Action Committee, brought the “Say ‘I Do’” tour to New Paltz after beginning their travels nearly three weeks prior in Staten Island. They were joined by local activists and Mayor-elect Jason West, who sought to encourage Sen. John Bonacic and others to support “marriage rights for all New Yorkers,” said Jay Blotcher.
New Paltz residents, Blotcher and West met the pair in Peace Park, near the location where the mayor-elect performed nearly 30 same-sex marriages during his first term.
West, who was later charged with 19 misdemeanor counts of “solemnizing marriages without a license” by the county, said the issue of same-sex marriage is one he still cares about.
“I wouldn’t have risked death threats then if I didn’t think this was an important issue, and I think it should be important to all Americans,” West said. “Members of the LGBT community have been treated as second-class citizens, and that has to stop.”
Alongside dozens of other same-sex couples, Blotcher was married to his husband in 2004 in New Paltz. However, all of the marriages West performed were annulled two years later.
Blotcher said the fact that these marriages were annulled in spite of the “trailblazing” efforts of West proves that inequality for same-sex couples still exists in New York.
“New Paltz, New York has been a beacon of tolerance and understanding when others could not be,” he said. “We want to continue to reach out to the hearts and minds of politicians and everyday people.”
At their New Paltz stop and across the state, Zacchi and Anguera walked across the area and handed out information about an Internet program that they said allowed for quicker communication with state and local officials.
The pair walked down Main Street to distribute information about Friendfactor, which Zacchi said was designed to be an easy way to get friends and others to call their senators.
According to Zacchi, those who log on to friendfactor.org/ronz can enter their information to find who their legislator is and be directly connected to their office by phone. The program also provides participants with a “script” that offers suggestions about how to tell legislators that they should support same-sex marriage.
Since the 700-mile “Say ‘I Do’” tour and their use of Friendfactor started, 90 people have used the program to contact legislators. Zacchi said he hopes to encourage 1,000 to reach out to their officials.
“There is a large segment of the population that doesn’t get involved politically and isn’t sure how to,” he said. “That’s a big obstacle, but that’s why we’re going around.”
Blotcher said the local activists have also sought to appeal to Bonacic, who only supported civil unions.
Saying that he questions Bonacic’s “suitability as a politician” because he is serving the people in accordance with the Bible and not the constitution, Blotcher said he hopes leaders opposed or indifferent to the issue will reconsider their stance.
“We want to reach out to any politicians who run the risk of being on the wrong side of history,” Blotcher said. “They may not have something against it, but they could believe their constituency does and that isn’t the case.”
According to a January poll conducted by the University of Quinnipiac, 56 percent of New Yorkers are in support of gay marriage. West said these statistics are “almost the opposite” of polling numbers taken during the time that he performed them in 2004.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said publically that he’s optimistic same-sex marriage will be legalized. The legalization process sustained defeat in the state Senate in 2009, falling eight votes short of passage.
Zacchi and Anguera planned to reach Albany for Equality and Justice Day on Monday. After the day of lobbying and protesting, the pair will make stops in Buffalo, Syracuse and then will return to New York City by bicycle. The tour will end with a week-long walk across Long Island.