Capitol Idea: Three Cheers for the New York State Senate

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's leadership played a key role in the bipartisan decision to allow same-sex marriage.

New York is set to become the seventh state to allow same-sex marriage.

Because the Empire State is so populous, the new law will roughly double the number of Americans who have access to gay marriage.

But, as momentous a victory as this represents for marriage equality, the vote late Friday night by the New York state senate reverberates far beyond the single issue of gay marriage.

Because its state senate is controlled by Republicans, New York is the first state to allow gay marriage where the legislature is not dominated by Democrats.

At a time of deep partisan division and gridlock nationally, this news out of New York represents a welcome breath of bipartisan cooperation.

And federal politicians in Washington ought to take note.

Although the New York Senate is controlled by the GOP, most of the Republican senators actually oppose same-sex marriage. But instead of obstructing the measure by keeping it bottled up in committee, Republican leaders of the state Senate actually allowed the legislation to be brought up for a vote anyway. Same-sex marriage prevailed because most of the chamber’s Democrats lined up behind it, with a small handful of Republicans helping to push it over the finish line. The result was truly bipartisan.

Sadly, it’s hard to picture a similar feat coming to pass in Congress, whether on the matter of gay marriage, or any other issue. Congressional Republicans routinely stand in the way of nearly any Democratic initiative.

Imagine, though, if the Washington GOP behaved more like their colleagues from the Empire State. Most of the Republicans in the state Senate didn’t help Democrats pass gay marriage, but they didn’t stand in the way, either. They let the Democrats do the heavy lifting to round up the support to get it passed. Those New York Republicans should be applauded, because that’s exactly how Republicans in Washington ought to behave. If Democrats in Congress can muster the votes on a given issue, they ought to be able to prevail, just as the Democrats in Albany did. Republicans shouldn’t obstruct just for the sake of obstruction. The lesson from New York, though, isn’t only for Republicans, President Obama should pay attention, too.

New York lawmakers tried to pass gay marriage about 18 months ago, and failed. Gay marriage didn’t get the push from the governor’s office in 2009 that it got this year. A big reason for the different result this time was the leadership of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who came into office this year.

Cuomo, the New York Times says, “used the force of his personality and relentlessly strategic mind to persuade conflicted lawmakers to take a historic leap.”

As president, Obama could, no should, provide the same level of leadership that Cuomo is showing in New York, to fight for Democratic priorities. I don’t just mean on gay marriage, but on any issue important to Democrats.

For those of us in Washington who have grown accustomed to the notion that divided government must equal gridlock, our friends in the Empire State proved another outcome is entirely possible.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Three Cheers for the New York State Senate on Blogcritics.

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