By Jack Minor
A team of legal specialists charges Democrats employed “dirty tricks” to narrowly pass a statute legalizing same-sex “marriage” in New York, and the law could be struck down if the tactics are ruled illegal.
Last year, the New York legislature passed the Marriage Equality Act, which legalized same-sex marriage for New Yorkers and out-of-state residents as well. The bill passed the state Senate on a 33-29 vote, with the support of four Republicans.
But before the bill’s passage, the Democratic conference changed Senate rules to prevent Ruben Diaz Sr., a Democrat and opponent of same-sex marriage, from motioning to lay the bill aside for debate. Kevin Parker, another Democratic senator, alleged that on the evening of the vote, the doors to the chamber were locked to prevent lawmakers from leaving while the bill was being voted on.
Rena Lindevaldsen, special counsel for Liberty Counsel, said while the tactics may have been outrageous, supporters of the bill engaged in other tactics that may have violated the state’s open meeting laws and could render the legislation null and void.
There are allegations that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg held separate meetings with Republican legislators to pressure them to change their vote. The claim is that at one of the meetings, lawmakers who backed the bill were offered campaign cash and those who maintained opposition were told donations would be made to their opponents.
Like many states, New York has an open-meeting law that requires a gathering of decision-makers in government in which state actions are considered to be made known and open to the public. The state’s law says a violation takes place when a quorum of legislators from one political party meets, a member of another party is present and the meeting is closed to the public.
That is precisely what occurred when Cuomo, a Democrat, and Bloomberg, an independent, met with the Republican caucus to persuade and pressure members to change their vote to support the Marriage Equality Act, critics allege.
Earlier this week, Lindevaldsen argued before an appeals court that the secret, closed-door meetings held by New York state Senate Republicans with Cuomo and Bloomberg violated the state’s open-meeting law.
The argument was made in an appeal by the state of New York of a November 2011 decision by the New York Supreme Court that refused to dismiss the complaint over the developments.
The state of New York contends that the open-meeting law was not violated with either of the meetings, stating they were deliberations of political committees, conferences and caucuses. The state also contended Cuomo and Bloomberg were just invited “guests,” similar to an expert being asked to testify on a particular subject.
Lindevaldsen said no rational person could come to the conclusion that Cuomo and Bloomberg were guests at the Republican meeting.
“The standard definition of guest refers to someone who was invited to someone else’s home or to [whom] hospitality is extended. In this case, the meeting was held by Cuomo at the governor’s mansion. How could he possibly be a guest? He was the host, not the Republican conference.”
That assertion was confirmed by the New York Times, which supported the legislation but said, “Cuomo invited the Republicans to visit him at the governor’s residence, a 40 room Victorian mansion overlooking the Hudson River just a few blocks from the Capitol.”
The article also noted the meeting was held by the host at the governor’s mansion not at the Republican conference chambers.
A news article published by Echilon Enterprises said there was pressure on Republicans.
“GOP senators said it was Cuomo’s passionate appeals in the governor’s mansion on Monday night and in closed-door, individual meetings that were perhaps most persuasive,” the report said.
A similar situation occurred in the meeting with Bloomberg. The Villager reported Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn personally lobbied Republican senators.
The Villager article was headlined “Bloomberg Pushes GOP Senators on Marriage.”
Lindevaldsen noted that people from a different political party who “push” Republican senators on an issue rarely find themselves invited as guests in private strategy sessions.
At the meeting, Bloomberg made a public commitment not only to financially support the re-election campaigns of Republican senators who voted for the act but also to financially support the opponents of any senators who voted against it.
Media reports said following the vote that Bloomberg donated $10,300 to each of the four Republican senators who changed their positions and voted for the bill.
Lindevaldsen said that if the court were to uphold the state’s definition of guest, it would completely eviscerate the open-meeting law to the point where only the casting of a vote would be required to be conducted in public.
“All anyone would have to do to get around the law would be to ‘pass the hat’ and claim the meeting was a fundraiser. That is clearly not what the law was intended to do,” she said.
She said the case “is about holding public officials accountable for their actions and protecting the rule of law.”