NYC Churches Fight Bloomberg's Same-Sex Marriage Push

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has made frequent visits to Albany to lobby the state on behalf of controversial issues during his three terms in office.  In his first term, Bloomberg fought for and won mayoral control of the city’s school system.  In the second, he championed but ultimately did not get a congestion-pricing plan for lower Manhattan through the state legislature.  Now in his third and last term, Bloomberg is throwing his weight full-force behind perhaps the most controversial issue on the legislative calendar: same-sex marriage.

Bloomberg is known as a social liberal, supporting abortion, embryonic stem cell research and strict gun control laws, and nanny state anti-smoking regulations, among other issues.  Same-sex marriage has long been one of his pet causes.  Since he came out publicly in favor of legalizing homosexual marriages in the wake of a state court decision in 2005, Bloomberg has been vocal on the issue.  Last fall, as the state legislature was debating a bill to recognize the unions, Bloomberg appeared in a Human Rights Campaign ad in support of the measure.  “I’m a New Yorker and I support marriage equality,” Bloomberg said.

That bill ultimately failed to gain approval in the state senate, as eight majority Democrats joined all 30 of the chamber’s Republicans to soundly defeat the bill.  In a statement following the vote, Bloomberg thanked the legislators for bringing the issue to the floor, and vowed to continue fighting for same-sex marriage in the state.

“And so now, we begin a new effort to secure the additional votes needed to pass this bill.  … I applaud the 24 senators who courageously and compassionately voted ‘yes.’  Historic change does not come easily, but this vote was a crucial step that, I believe, will ultimately lead the state to extend full marriage rights to all couples,” Bloomberg said.

Now as the Senate again considers a same-sex marriage bill, this time under a new Republican majority, Bloomberg appears to be taking no chances in trying to turn wayward senators to his side.  But local church groups in New York City have caught wind of Bloomberg’s arm-twisting, and have mobilized to stop him and the bill.

Bishop Joseph Mattera, founder and leader of City Action Coalition, a large coalition of multi-ethnic denominations in New York City, told HUMAN EVENTS that Bloomberg has been threatening Republican senators that he will pull his support for them if they vote against the bill.  On a recent Albany lobbying trip, Bloomberg left little doubt of his intentions.  Asked about the reports of pressure tactics, Bloomberg didn’t deny that he would use the vote as a litmus test for his political contributions.  “I certainly will concentrate and focus more on those that [vote for the bill],” he said.

Mattera said he received word of the mayor’s strong-arm tactics from his own lobbyist network in Albany at the end of March, and began a campaign to counter Bloomberg with calls from churches in senators’ districts.  So far, the ad hoc church coalition has beaten back Bloomberg’s attempt to sway the Senate, as evidenced by Sen. Andrew Lanza’s (R.) comments on Bloomberg’s lobbying effort.  “Not even for a friend will I vote for something that I don’t believe is in the best interests of the people I represent,” he said.

Mattera and his coalition are planning a rally on the steps of City Hall to bring their message in support of traditional marriage rights to Mayor Bloomberg’s office door.  Bishop Mattera’s City Action Coalition International, a group of affiliated churches dedicated to and organized around advocacy for moral issues including support of traditional marriage, is headlining the rally set for Tuesday, June 14, at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of City Hall. 

In an e-mail announcing the rally, Mattera calls the same-sex marriage bill an “insidious law that would do unfathomable damage to families and reconstruct education, health care and family life.”  He also frames the issue in terms of religious freedom, warning churches of all faiths that the state could force churches to perform same-sex ceremonies.  “[The bill] is also a great danger to religious freedom because, if passed, same-sex marriage would become recognized as a civil right.  Because of this, those churches that do not conduct gay marriages would most likely be penalized and maybe even have their tax-exempt statuses revoked in coming years!” the announcement warns.

Mattera said that his opposition to the mayor on this issue is not personal.  “I believe that after 2001, Mayor Bloomberg was the right person for the job.  In many respects, he’s been a commendable mayor,” Mattera said.  “But this attempt to socially engineer and redefine marriage is deplorable.”  So far, the churches appear confident that same-sex marriage in New York will again fail in the Senate.  But with a billionaire mayor in his last term on a crusade to redefine the way the state recognizes marriage, they aren’t taking any chances.