“I couldn’t watch any of it because there was no television,” she told The Observer in a phone call on Monday afternoon.
In the weeks leading up to Friday’s vote, Gillibrand had reached out to each of the state Senators who were publicly undecided, and, in the final week, had spoken again to Republican Senators Stephen Saland and Roy McDonald.
But, as Saland announced his vote on the Senate floor–making clear the bill would have the 32 votes for a majority–Gillibrand could only receive the news by text. (One of her aides, Jon Reinish, had taken leave to join the effort in Albany.)
“They were giving me minute-by-minute updates, which was really fun,” said Gillibrand, who, within a few hours, had agreed to officiate at two weddings. “We were celebrating on the middle of the Acela.”
For Gillibrand, the hope now is that Albany’s action might lead to some celebrations in Washington.
“I do believe that New York will now lead the nation in a wave of equality and justice for all,” she said. “I think it will strengthen our mission and our goals on the federal level.”
Gillibrand has been pushing for same-sex marriage since her appointment to the Senate in January of 2009, reassuring gay-rights groups that she would fight–not just for civil unions and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act–but for full “marriage equality.” (That made her New York’s first senator to take such a position; Senator Chuck Schumer, who had voted for DOMA, would follow suit a few months later.)
For now, the goals remain more modest.
Last December, she became a certified champion of the cause, when President Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, after she had pushed for a pivotal hearing in the Armed Services Committee.
In March, she joined with 17 other Democrats to introduce a bill repealing DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and expressly prevents states from having to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
“I think having a state like New York—such a large state—come out in favor of marriage equality in a bipartisan way, with several Republican Senators taking the lead, will help strengthen our cause in the Senate, because I believe that we can create a bipartisan effort to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and make sure that the federal government protects all families and protects all marriages,” Gillibrand told The Observer. “And I think that this will help us in moving that legislation forward this year.”
“I think this will become a bipartisan bill. I think we can build on our success of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We had a lot of bipartisan support for that repeal.”
But much of the impetus for repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell came from the military commanders who cast doubt on the effectiveness of the policy, giving even conservative Republicans a rationale to repeal it. It’s unclear whether any Republicans will feel similarly inspired with regard to DOMA.
Gillibrand–who, at 44, is one of the youngest members of the upper chamber–said part of the problem is generational, and that New York’s law might help with that too.
“A lot of the young gay couples said, ‘My dad called me and he was so excited and so proud,’” she said. “And no one expected it. But I think it’s an important statement. Because for older generations,this hasn’t been part of their march. The fact that the state has accepted their son’s wedding, and their daughter’s wedding, and it has the same strength of law that everybody else’s marriage does, I think was something really important and had an effect that I think no one really expected. So I think it’s a generational impact.”
“I think this is a battle that we can fight legislatively and that’s why I think it has to come out of the Senate first,” she said. “But I know that we have the president’s support, and he will sign it when we repeal it.”
Gillibrand, for one, doesn’t question the president’s commitment, even as the administration has said only that he’s “evolving” on the issue.
“I do think the president has shown a deep commitment to equality because he signed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and I do think taking the step of not prosecuting DOMA in federal court was really meaningful because he didn’t take that step with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” she said. “I thought it was a very strong statement that this is something he will support, and he will sign, when we repeal it.”
Gillibrand said she spoke to Governor Cuomo–a longtime friend–on Monday morning, and expressed how proud she was that he had helped lead New York state back to the forefront of progressivism.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of Governor Cuomo, how excited I am for our state legislature to take leadership on this, how pleased I am that this is a bipartisan effort,” she told The Observer. “I think this is where America needs be.”
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