Thursday, June 30, 2011

DPVA Could Learn From My Old State Senate District in NY

There has been a lot of talk about how New York passed marriage equality. The major talk has been about how several Republican state Senators (including my former Senator, Jim Alesi) voted in favor of legalizing same sex unions. While I'm definitely happy about the news that more Americans will be having their basic civil rights recognized, recent polling has shown that we still have a lot of work left to do.

A Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday, for instance, shows that Virginians oppose same sex marriage by a margin of 52 to 41. There is some good news, however, as this represents fewer people being opposed to same sex marriage since the Newman Marshall Amendment passed in 2006 by a margin of 57 to 43. Furthermore, the polling also shows that there is support for other gay rights such as same-sex couples being able to adopt.

As Claire Guthrie Gastanga from Equality Virginia told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Public support for gay rights is trending upwards in a consistently straight line on workplace rights, adoption and marriage. The General Assembly is behind the voters on this."

When you combine Claire's observations with the fact that a Washington Post poll from back in May actually showed 47 percent of Virginians supporting same sex marriage, with 43 percent against, it's definitely worth continuing to educate the public. A prime example of how this could pay off can be seen with the vote in New York.

A few weeks before I moved back to Virginia, I attended a strategy meeting in Rochester about how we could approach Jim Alesi. The thought was that he probably wouldn't vote for the measure, but it was worth a chance just in case. By having a strong coalition of groups working to put pressure on Alesi, he not only ended up voting for the same sex marriage bill but actually came out in support of it relatively early. This gave other Republicans cover to vote in favor of the legislation. More importantly, however, it gave momentum to the grassroots and showed how having a good public education effort on the topic could actually change some minds.

I bring this up because although New York is more progressive than Virginia, the district that Alesi represents is a moderate one -- much like districts in Virginia that are represented by vulnerable Republicans. As a result, we could see some progress on issues like LGBT equality if we see DPVA and the grassroots step up the pressure on the GOP and let the public know why we need progressive legislation.

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