Gay pols' marriages divide voters
Same-sex marriage will be put to the ultimate test of public acceptance in the Village of Ossining on Nov 6.
That's when voters there will decide whether they can support not one but two prominent politicians who have married partners of the same gender.
The outcome could well offer a preview of New York City's next mayoral election, when City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is likely to be a top contender, and of things to come in national politics as well. Among the many thousands of gays who have recently married -- or now wish to marry -- are more than a few politicians who seem confident they can get elected as married gays.
Quinn, 46, wed her partner, Kim Catullo, on May 19.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker, 56, has not yet married her partner, Kathy Hubbard, but has adopted three children with Parker and has publicly stated she wants the right to marry while aggressively campaigning for public acceptance of gay marriage.
Rep. Barney Frank, the 72-year-old Democrat from Massachusetts, is not running for re-election, but he added momentum to the movement for acceptance of gay marriage in politics by marrying his partner, 42-year-old James Ready, in early July.
Ossining Mayor Bill Hanauer, 65, made his marriage to partner Alan Stahl, 64, a public affair, inviting the media to a festive ceremony in a village park on June 3. Given that Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Ossining, and that Hanauer won re-election handily both in 2008 and 2010, he is favored to fend off a challenge from Republican Linda Cabral Marrero without much of a problem.
The outlook is a bit different for Republican Janis Castaldi, a former Ossining trustee and deputy mayor. She is trying to unseat Democratic state Sen. David Carlucci in the newly reconfigured 38th District, which includes the village and parts of Rockland County.
Castaldi married her partner, Lizz Endrich, in a ceremony in Connecticut more than two years ago. Today, the 59-year-old Castaldi, a recruitment consultant, is shielding Endrich from press inquiries, explaining that she doesn't want to be known as a "gay candidate" and wishes to keep her private life separate from politics.
During a recent interview, Castaldi shied away from discussion of her partner.
"We have to get back to the issues," she told Newsday. "People don't care about your personal life. They want to know what you're going to do when you get into office. There are so many bigger problems to deal with."
The two Ossining candidates do not see eye to eye on the role of gay marriage in politics.
Castaldi has been critical of Hanauer's decision to get hitched in public, blasting him in a recent blog post.
"This is a political ploy, one that puts a stain on gay marriage," Castaldi said on a news website featuring a story about his wedding. "Why do this and smear your names freely over the press? One reason. Votes."
Castaldi's commitment to same-sex marriage has cost her. Her otherwise solid conservative credentials were not enough for her to win the endorsement of the state's powerful Conservative Party. Party chairman Michael Long announced that Castaldi's support for same-sex marriage was a deal breaker. The party denied Castaldi their line in her district, a step that damages her prospects significantly.
"It's not about a candidate's personal life," Long said. "The Conservative Party has consistently said that we will not endorse candidates who support same-sex marriage, and we intend to stand by that decision."
GAYS FURIOUS AT CONSERVATIVES
Gay rights groups have reacted with outrage to the party's abandonment of Castaldi.
"That comes the closest to open bigotry that we've seen," said Dennis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington-based political action committee. "When a political party says that you can't represent us because you happen to be gay, it's absurd."
Castaldi tries to put a positive spin on the party's action.
"I'm not bitter about it," she said. "There's a lot of good conservatives out there who know I am fiscally responsible and that I will do what's right. And that's what matters when they go to the voting booth."
"Sen. Carlucci was proud to have voted for marriage equality so that every loving couple in New York could live their lives as they choose, and (he) will continue to support it," said a spokesperson for Carlucci. "In this election, he will be running on his progressive record."
Marrero did not respond to requests for comment.
Asked about the Ossining candidates, a representative for a prominent organization on the religious right spoke of moral imperatives.
"We believe that homosexual behavior is immoral and unnatural and that society should not endorse that kind of behavior or tolerate the elected leaders who do," said Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association.
MIXED FEELINGS ON STREETS OF OSSINING
National polls show increasing public support for same-sex marriage, but they don't delve into respondents' feelings about gay politicians.
On the streets of Ossining, residents have mixed feelings about the candidates.
Robert Bolckhausen, a retired greenhouse worker who is gay and has lived in Ossining for 40 years, says he respects the mayor's "courage" in making his private life public. Bolckhausen, 73, remembers when gays hid their sexuality.
"Back in the 1950s, you didn't talk about those things," he said. "But the times are changing."
Bolckhausen is a member of the First Presbyterian Church, whose pastor, the Rev. Lynda Clements, officiated at Hanauer's wedding. He said the minister caught some flak from a few parishioners but that most supported her.
"This is a very progressive community," he noted. "Most people here are very accepting."
Eli Slovill, a retired mechanic who has lived in the village for 45 years, says it doesn't bother him that the mayor married his partner in public, but he knows it bothered others.
"Not everyone was happy about it, but most people here keep their opinions to themselves," Slovill said.
Emily Sagen, a 32-year-old accountant in Ossining, said she "doesn't have a problem with what people do behind closed doors" but she doesn't think gay politicians should be "making a public spectacle" of their sexual preference.
One prominent Republican in town suggested that some in Ossining were upset by Hanauer's wedding, but he cautioned that the negative reactions were complex.
"The majority of people I have spoken with, even if they didn't agree with gay marriage, were probably more upset with the fact that he did it in such a public way," said Councilman Peter Tripodi, the only Republican on the governing board. "If I were getting married, I wouldn't send out a news release."
Tripodi, who is also Castaldi's campaign manager and vice chairman of the town's GOP committee, said most residents want politicians to focus on other issues.
"It's the law of the land now; whether we like it or not is meaningless," Reda said.
EMPATHY FROM STRAIGHT COUPLES
Gay rights groups are encouraging gay politicians who are married to be open about it.
"People who run for elected office are expected to talk about their private lives and their families," said Dison of the Victory Fund. "We're past the point where candidates can avoid talking about it."
Lynn Faria, interim executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay rights group, said marrying helps openly gay politicians find increased acceptance from voters in the heterosexual community.
"There is this thread of commonality in being among the married," Faria said. "The more we see openly gay and married elected officials, the more we will change peoples' hearts and minds."
When Quinn married Catullo two months ago, the ceremony was private but was attended by a who's who of New York's political elite, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, who helped push the adoption of the same-sex marriage law, wed his partner in January.
Statewide, nearly 12,000 same-sex couples have gotten married, according to figures from the state and New York City's clerk's office.
Faria hopes Ossining will serve as a model for acceptance of married, gay politicians.
"What happens in New York could stretch across the country," she said. "We are leading the way."
In May, President Barack Obama said he endorsed it. His statement was hailed by Democrats, gay rights groups and others as a milestone for civil rights in the United States. Obama said that New York's passage of a gay marriage law had helped shape his opinion.
A week later, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that the federal law declaring marriage to be a union solely between a man and a woman discriminates against married, same-sex couples by denying them the benefits afforded to heterosexual couples -- a ruling that could set the stage for a Supreme Court review.
Gay rights activists -- emboldened by New York's law and Obama's support for same-sex marriage -- are organizing a new push for repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted by Republicans in 1996 as a bar to same-sex marriage.
Hanauer sees increasing public acceptance of same-sex married leaders in the long perspective of history.
"It's amazing that it took all these years to happen, but it is, in my mind, part of a natural progression," he said. "It took many years for women to get the right to vote and move into an equal society."