BY Elizabeth Benjamin
THE DAILY POLITICS
At a private risotto dinner Sunday night with gay leaders and elected officials at Gramercy Tavern last night, Sen. Chuck Schumer reversed himself on the issue of same-sex marriage, saying he not only now supports it but also backs a full reversal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Schumer's office confirmed the meeting and also the senior senator's change of heart, issuing the following statement from the Brooklyn Democrat:
"It's time. Equality is something that has always been a hallmark of America and no group should be deprived of it. New York, which has always been at the forefront on issues of equality, is appropriately poised to take a lead on this issue."
It's hard to overstate the significance of this in the eyes of gay marriage advocates.
With the ascent of Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton's vacant US Senate seat, Schumer was the last remaining statewide elected official who backed civil unions over full marriage equality.
(Recall that one of the first issues Gillibrand "evolved" on was marriage, although her office has insisted she always personally supported it).
Clinton's departure from the New York political stage arguably gave Schumer some breathing room on this issue.
Both Clinton and Schumer were under pressure from the gay community (which includes some very heavy-hitting political donors) to change their position from supporting civil unions to backing marriage, but they both refused to budge.
While Clinton was running for president, there was no way Schumer could move on this topic - no matter how much he might have wanted to follow the lead set by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his lt. gov., David Paterson - especially since Barack Obama also took the civil-union-only approach.
Sunday night's dinner was organized by Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle and Jeff Soref, a gay philanthropist and donor who was board president of the Gay Men's Health Crisis from 1991-1004 and a past ESPA co-chair.
"I want to thank Sen. Schumer for his support of marriage equality and repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” said Van Capelle.
“Like a majority of New Yorkers, Sen. Schumer recognizes that only marriage equality provides same sex couples the status, protections and rights afforded to all other Americans. We look forward to working with him to win marriage equality in New York State and around the country."
Also present for the meal were Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell, who sponsored the gay marriage bill that passed his house in 2007; Assemblywoman Deborah Glick; Council Speaker Christine Quinn; and Assemblyman Micah Kellner.
Sen. Tom Duane, who is carrying the marriage bill in the Senate, was in Albany and couldn't make it.