Politics

2009 Mixed Year For Gay Marriage Supporters

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Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Marc Mutty, former chairperson, Stand for Marriage Maine
Joe Solmonese, president, Human Rights Campaign
Irene Jay Liu, political reporter, Albany Times Union

Tuesday, gay rights supporters celebrated when the Washington, DC city council voted to approve same sex marriage. But similar bills have met with defeat in New York and New Jersey. Also, the health care bill debate in the Senate may be nearing an end.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Lawmaker vote to rebuke the governor who brought, they say, ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame on South Carolina. Jenny Sanford files for divorce amid rumors she may file to run, and 22 million emails from the Bush White House pop up. It's Wednesday and time for a man-of-the-year edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Where's the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, our man of the year, NPR political editor Ken Rudin, joins us to talk about politics. The health care debate seems to hinge on Senator Joe Lieberman, four Democratic congressmen announce retirement, and two tourists from Georgia accidentally break bread with the president. Yesterday, the D.C. city council voted yes on gay marriage after New York, Maine, New Jersey all said no in different ways.

We'll focus on the politics of gay marriage in a bit. Later in the hour, a tiny nation, Pacific island, sells an important diplomatic resource: recognition.

But first, as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us as usual here in Studio 3A.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Hey, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, okay, we're talking about Joe Lieberman and his role in perhaps passing or scuttling...

CONAN: Health care.

RUDIN: Health care legislation. Okay, so here's a trivia question. There are two independents in the Senate. It's Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. When was the last time there were two members of the Senate not elected on either the Democratic or Republican party line, and who were they?

CONAN: So if you think you know the year and the names of the last time the Senate had two members elected as neither a Democrat nor a Republican, give us a call. The phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

And let's start with health care, and we're going to take you, live, to the world's greatest deliberative body, and let's listen as the United States Senate considers this.

Unidentified Man: ...must take into account the potentially higher costs of placing health professional students in clinical education programs in health professional shortage areas. Part Two,...

CONAN: And there are going to be a lot of parts, because what you're hearing is a live reading, in full, of a 787-page amendment to the health care bill, submitted by, as you should mention, independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont -the socialist. And it is - Tom Coburn of South Carolina said no, he will not waive the reading of this bill. They're going to spend all day reading this bill.

RUDIN: Well, you'd think it's part of the Republican effort to make this as difficult as possible for the Democrats.

CONAN: No, I think that's going out on a limb.

RUDIN: But the Democrats are making it difficult for themselves, as well. Before we go any further, just in fairness, Bernie Sanders may be a self-described socialist, but he is an independent. He is not a socialist, like he's not a member of the Socialist Party. He's, okay, small-s socialist.

Okay, having said that, well, there was some mini-drama over the weekend when, on "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Joe Lieberman said that he could not vote for a health care bill that would include this Medicare buy-in program.

CONAN: That he was for before he was against.

RUDIN: The old John Kerry quote, right, which allows people as young as 55 to buy into it. He said it would be far too expensive, and it probably is very expensive. He also says - he has said from the beginning that he would not support the public option.

So Harry Reid, who thought he had a compromise with the buy-in, with the public option, basically got his caucus to drop both parts of the bill. And while the liberals, the progressives, are very upset, they have actually been surprisingly quiet, because in the words of Sherrod Brown, the Democrat from Ohio, they would rather have some bill than no bill at all.

So now it looks like what - the stumbling block may be Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who says he - you know, he offered an amendment last week that would sort of - exactly like the Stupak Amendment in the House - that would bar anybody from taking federal subsidies to pay it for abortion. And Ben Nelson, who is very anti-abortion, says that he may not be able to support this without that language.

CONAN: In the meantime, Joe Lieberman says his - well, his concerns have not made him the most popular man in Washington.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): This has not been an enjoyable time of my career, but I've done what I thought was right. And all along I've said that I really wanted, in the end, to vote for health care reform because we need it, and I feel I'm very close to that point now, and I'm grateful for that.

CONAN: On the other side, of course, the Republican minority leader, that's Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, well, nobody's talking to Republicans about this because they are all united in opposition, and hardly anybody's listening when Mitch McConnell says�

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): This has the potential to be a mistake of historical proportions, and the American people are literally almost telling us, on a daily basis, please don't pass this bill.

CONAN: Well, and the fact the Democrats are going to try to pass this bill because it has become incredibly important to Barack Obama.

RUDIN: Yes, it is, and clearly, Barack Obama would rather sign something that is somewhat flawed than the perfect bill, and, of course, you'll never get a perfect bill. But it's interesting when you're quoting Mitch McConnell because he has said from the beginning, or from the longest time, that we should scuttle this bill and go back to - you know, start all over again, and everybody says oh, you know, you're out of your mind, that'll never happen.

And yet Howard Dean said the exact same thing yesterday on Vermont Public Radio, when he said that this bill is fatally flawed, should start all over again and perhaps work either at reconciliation, fight for 51 votes, or do similar to what the House has passed.

CONAN: In the meantime, the president says look, if we don't pass it this time, there may never be another chance. No other president's going to go after this after Clinton has failed and if this effort fails.

President BARACK OBAMA: Now let's be clear. The final bill won't include everything that everybody wants. No bill can do that. But what I told my former colleagues today is that we simply cannot allow differences over individual elements of this plan to prevent us from meeting our responsibility to solve a long-standing and urgent problem for the American people.

CONAN: So if they ever get the opportunity to finish reading the Sanders amendment - which will not pass, by the way, everybody knows that, and it's going to take all day to read it - then it's going to be what, another six or seven days of parliamentary maneuvering before we actually get to a vote.

RUDIN: Well, look, President Obama, you know, he won the Nobel Prize. He doesn't want the no-bill prize. He wants this bill, and it looks like the Senate may pass it as - probably December 23, but then you still have the negotiations with the House in January. The House, of course, still has the Stupak Amendment.

So there is a lot of things - it's hard - just getting Joe Lieberman on board sounds like a big accomplishment, but it's far from the endgame.

CONAN: All right. We have some callers on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again, we have two independent members of the U.S. Senate currently. When was the last time there were two independent members of the U.S. Senate, and who were they? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Patrick's(ph) on the line, calling from Las Vegas.

PATRICK (Caller): How are you? I believe it was Senator Byrd from Virginia and Lowell Weicker from Connecticut, and I'm guessing 1996.

RUDIN: Well, actually, Lowell Weicker wasn't even in the Senate in 1986. There was a guy name Joe Lieberman who defeated Lowell Weicker in 1988. Lowell Weicker was elected three - let's see, in '70, '76 and '82, all three times as a Republican. He later became an independent, when he was elected governor of Connecticut, but while he was in the Senate, he was always a Republican.

CONAN: Good try, Patrick.

PATRICK: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much, and let's see if we can go next to - this is - excuse me, that's the wrong line. This is Dick(ph), Dick with us from Milwaukee.

DICK (Caller): Well, I think it was James Buckley from New York, but - and then the other one I thought was Wayne Morse, but I think he was defeated before Buckley got elected.

RUDIN: That's correct. Buckley was elected in '70. Morse was defeated in '68. For a brief time, Morse was an independent. He was a Republican who broke because he didn't like Dwight Eisenhower, was an independent briefly, and he was a Democrat, but again as you say correctly that it was before Buckley came to the Senate.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Dick, and let's see if we can go to Kate(ph), Kate with us from Landgren in Pennsylvania.

KATE (Caller): Hi. I have Wayne Morse and Strom Thurmond.

RUDIN: Well, Strom Thurmond actually was - is the only person in the history of the Senate elected as a write-in candidate, in 1954, as you well remember, but since 1956, he was a Democrat, and in '64, he was a Republican. He was never an independent and certainly not at the same time as Wayne Morse was. But there's something far more recent than Thurmond and Morse.

KATE: Oh, okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Kate. And we have an email, this from Jim(ph) in Roslindale, Massachusetts. He says: I'm guessing '71 to '77, Harry Byrd, Jr., Virginia; and James Buckley of New York.

RUDIN: Well, that is the correct answer, and you know, from the two people who called in, one of them had Buckley, and one of them had Byrd, but they didn't have them together. It was Buckley and Byrd. That's correct.

CONAN: Buckley and Byrd, ding, ding, ding, ding. So we've got your email address there, Jim, and you will be the proud recipient of a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt, beautifully designed, of course, and you have to promise to take a digital picture of yourself and mail it to us so we can post it on our wall of shame.

In the meantime, Ken Rudin, we have four members of the House Democratic Caucus who say I've had enough. I'm not going to run again.

RUDIN: Well, the latest one is Bart Gordon of Tennessee. He's been around since I guess 1984. He took the seat that Al Gore gave when Al Gore, Jr., was elected to the Senate.

Again, four is not a giant march, you know, compared to 1994, when many Democrats decided to retire, and that was the end of the Democratic control of Congress.

CONAN: The year after, yeah.

RUDIN: Right. But more and more Democrats are getting nervous, and if more and more Democrats decide that they're not running for re-election - in addition to Bart Gordon is John Tanner of Tennessee, Dennis Moore of Kansas and Brian Baird of Washington state. If the list continues to increase, then perhaps more and more Democrats might be very nervous about their chances in 2010.

CONAN: We also have 22 emails, the famous missing emails.

RUDIN: More than 22.

CONAN: Twenty-two million, all right, a few more. Picky, picky, picky.

RUDIN: And I'd like to read them all right now, if we have time.

CONAN: Well actually, we're going to listen to them live, being read on the floor of the United States Senate.

RUDIN: This is a lawsuit, basically a lawsuit that started in 2007, when these emails went missing. Basically, they were not properly archived in the Bush administration, and a lot of the emails very likely concerned the firings of the U.S. attorneys, the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent - what role if any played by then-White House political advisor Karl Rove. So there's a lot of questions, and suddenly because of their reclassification, the relabeling of these emails, they have turned up, thanks to a lawsuit and things like that.

Citizens for Responsibility in Ethics in Washington filed this lawsuit, but we don't know exactly when we'll see these emails or even if we will see these emails.

CONAN: And of course, we all know the story of the White House party crashers. Two tourists from Georgia unwittingly found themselves at the breakfast buffet with the president of the United States.

RUDIN: Wow.

CONAN: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Heads are going to roll at the Secret Service, don't you think?

RUDIN: I think they will. Look, the fact that it keeps happening, and the fact that it's happened a second time, it is embarrassing, that's for sure.

CONAN: And Ken, Time magazine voted Ben Bernanke man of the year. What happened to your nomination?

RUDIN: Well actually, at the same time, I should point out that the AP named Tiger Woods the athlete of the decade, and of course, that's a good choice because he's closing in on Wilt Chamberlain's record.

CONAN: Okay. Ken Rudin, our political junkie, is going to stay with us. When we return, we're going to be focusing on the politics of gay marriage. Yesterday, the D.C. City Council voted aye by a large margin, but this comes after defeats in Maine, New York and New Jersey. All of them said no in different ways. We're going to be talking about, well, what looked like history ebbing.

What's going on with gay marriage legislation where you live? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking politics, as we do every Wednesday with NPR political editor Ken Rudin. We turn now to the politics of gay marriage.

Yesterday, gay rights supporters celebrated when the District of Columbia City Council voted to approve same-sex marriage, though as Councilman David Catania noted, D.C.'s peculiar status means that Congress gets 30 days to say nay.

Councilman DAVID CATANIA (District of Columbia): Even if we are defeated or frustrated on the Hill, we'll get up the next day, and we'll begin pushing the boulder up the hill.

CONAN: Last spring, supporters of gay marriage celebrated a string of such successes. The state legislatures in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all voted in their favor. Gay marriage bills looked set to pass in New York and New Jersey. But what looked to some like the tide of history, has ebbed after a series of defeats.

The bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New York went down to defeat. In New Jersey, Democrats shelved their bill before sending it to a vote. In Maine, voters repealed a state law allowing gays to marry.

We want to hear from you. What's going on where you live? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're going to be speaking with two advocates on each side of the issue. Marc Mutty joins us first. He was chair Stand for Marriage Maine, which opposes gay marriages. He's the director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine, and joins us now on the phone from his office there. Nice of you to be with us today.

Mr. MARC MUTTY (Director, Office of Public Affairs, Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine; Former Chair, Stand for Marriage Maine): Well, thank you, Neal. It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And after the state legislature passed this law, there is a provision in the state of Maine that calls for a referendum if people want it.

Mr. MUTTY: That's correct, and it's somewhat of a unique situation. Only several other states have that provision, and we certainly took advantage of it.

CONAN: And how did you go about this campaign?

Mr. MUTTY: Well, that's kind of a broad questions, but certainly the initial step was to get the signatures required to take this to referendum, which is an organizational issue and certainly a challenge. We were able to do that in record time and nearly just short of doubling the amount of signatures required here in Maine in order to qualify for the referendum. So that was the giant first step that we were very successful at.

CONAN: A lot of such petitions have been scuppered(ph)in the past when petition signatures are challenged. So you got twice as many as you needed to make sure that that was not a problem.

Mr. MUTTY: Exactly. You know, like I say, and there was a lot of enthusiasm for collecting the signatures. There was a lot of natural momentum, and it was difficult to stop them from going out there and procuring them. So we let them go at it, and like I say, we were very successful in getting...

CONAN: So once it's on the ballot, then there's a campaign, and as I understand it, a lot of money poured into Maine on both sides of the issue.

Mr. MUTTY: Certainly. It was - I don't know if this was record-setting, but I'm sure it was near-record-setting in terms of the amount of money that flowed into Maine on both sides of this issue.

CONAN: There were some great commercials, television ads on both sides.

Mr. MUTTY: There were. There were very aggressive campaigns on both sides in Maine, and again, extremely aggressive, compared to what you normally see here in Maine.

CONAN: We're talking with Marc Mutty, the former chairperson of Stand for Marriage Maine, whose campaign was successful. Ken?

RUDIN: Marc, obviously same-sex marriage has gone from Maine's state laws. What about the state legislators who voted for it? Is there going to be a campaign in 2010, by your organization or similar organizations, to defeat them at the polls?

Mr. MUTTY: Well, let's back up a bit. I was on loan from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, where I work as public policy director, which in essence, I'm a lobbyist for the diocese, and I was on loan to run this campaign. So my concerns were wider than just the Catholic Church.

But I am now back in the Catholic Church, in their employ as a public policy person, and the Catholic Church does not concern itself with partisan politics, does not get involved in partisan politics. So that's certainly not an area that you're going to see us involved in in any way, shape or form.

RUDIN: But do you expect a similar kind of effort against these legislators who voted for the bill?

Mr. MUTTY: I would think that others would be working that issue. I know that the National Organization for Marriage, which was very much our partner in this, is going to be working this from a partisan point of view and will be working for candidates who support traditional marriage.

CONAN: And do you see the lessons of this referendum, might they be applicable elsewhere?

Mr. MUTTY: I think so. I think you look at any campaign like this, any kind of public campaign, you're going to see some trends, and you're going to see certain things that are more successful than others that in all likelihood you can carry to another state.

You know, obviously there are differences in fundamental culture from one area of the country to another, but I think fundamentally, people are very similar, and the kinds of things that motivate them are very similar. So I think, you know...

CONAN: What do you think actually worked? I mean, what were the - if you were going to recommend somebody in another state try this, try this, they seemed to work for us.

Mr. MUTTY: Well, this is not - it's part art, and it's part science, I think -running campaigns. And whether it's this issue, and whether it's our side or the other side, we all run basically the same kinds of campaigns based on the same principles. You know, that first place is that you do extensive research on your audience and see what motivates them and what messages have impact on them. And that's exactly what we did, and I'm sure that's exactly what the other side of this issue did, as well, and we were able to isolate those kinds of issues that were hot-button issues for them.

And for whatever reason, we found that folks who were very motivated when you spoke of the possibility of this being discussed in school, of this being taught in schools - that marriage would be taught as being either one of several equation, that's either a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man, etcetera, and that they are all the equivalent of one another. And that was an area that people were very, very reluctant to see happen.

CONAN: So that's what got traction. I remember that ad.

Mr. MUTTY: It got an awful lot of traction and became a very, very central issue in the campaign.

CONAN: And were you surprised on election night? Because some polls suggested this was going to go the other way.

Mr. MUTTY: Our polling - and again, we did extensive polling, and I think the polling showed exactly what we knew was going to - well, we didn't know, but what we predicted would happen and what did indeed happen.

So there was not a really big surprise. I think what may surprise some, I suspect that the other side was polling numbers very similar to ours, if not identical to ours, that there's a factor here that you have to throw in for the numbers you are getting.

If you're showing 48 percent of the population is going to vote your way, you've got to throw in a margin of three to nine percent, additional, toward your side for folks who, quite frankly, lied to pollsters about how they're going to vote.

CONAN: Oh, so they'll tell a pollster that they're going to vote for gay marriage and actually pull the lever the other way.

Mr. MUTTY: Exactly.

CONAN: All right.

Mr. MUTTY: And that's something we have been shown from campaign to campaign to be true and proved to be true in Maine.

CONAN: Marc Mutty, belated congratulations, and nice of you to be with us today.

Mr. MUTTY: Thank you.

CONAN: Marc Mutty was chair of Stand for Marriage Maine. He's director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Portland, Maine, and spoke to us on the phone from his office there.

And we're joined here in Studio 3A by Joe Solmonese, who's the president of Human Rights Campaign, a group which supports gay marriage, and nice of you to join us today.

Mr. JOE SOLMONESE (President, Human Rights Campaign): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask you a broader question. Obviously a loss in Maine, we're going to get more details about New York later; a bill shelved in New Jersey; yes a victory yesterday in the District of Columbia. But what looked like a string of victories, well, it's been a tough year.

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, you know, I'd say on balance that none of us kid ourselves about the scope of what this is. You know, it is big, social change. It is fighting for the rights of same-sex couples to be able to be married and to enjoy all the same rights and responsibilities that are afforded with marriage in this country.

I see ourselves, sort of in the middle of a marriage decade. You know, we've got five states plus the District of Columbia that have marriage, which was not the case five years ago, but as you mentioned, it's sort of all about the ebb and flow of social change.

And so if we've had a couple of losses - Maine and New York, as you pointed out - and we're in that ebbing period, I think the measure of who we are as a community and how successful we're going to be is that we use these times not to sort of walk off the field but to really rededicate ourselves and look down the road and think about what's next and be just as fortified as ever. Because, you know, for every setback that we have, we're going to find a gain somewhere else.

CONAN: Okay, Ken?

RUDIN: Joe, every state that has had same-sex marriage on the ballot, 31 states, have all - voters have always rejected it. Is it a question of strategy for your organization, and is the way to go perhaps maybe state legislature and the courts rather than public referenda?

Mr. SOLMONESE: You know, I think there certainly has been a history of, you know, not wanting to put the rights of a minority to the vote of the majority. I mean, we certainly saw that when the Supreme Court ruled on interracial marriage, the American people weren't there. You know, a plurality of people were against interracial marriage at that time.

And so, you know, when I think about the fight for marriage equality that we're in now, you know, we're going down many different roads. And so it's a state-by-state strategy, and it is governed differently in different states.

So you know, a state like Rhode Island or Minnesota, where we have the possibility, down the road, of moving that bill through the legislature and getting it signed into law, it's obviously the route we'll take.

You know, other states, you know, we've had court cases, as was the case in Iowa. You know, we've passed it twice through the California legislature. So where there's an opportunity, we take it. But the strategy is defined a bit, you know, by state-by-state procedure. Although at the federal level, I would say that there are a whole lot of opportunities that we have to not necessarily get marriage but to close that economic gap that exists in the absence of marriage, like eliminating the taxes that people pay on their domestic partnership benefits, which is something we're poised to do in Congress right now.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation again. We're talking about what's happening with gay marriage legislation or referenda where you live. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

And let's see if we can go first to Zach(ph). And Zach's with us from Denver.

ZACH (Caller): Yeah. I'm only a college student. And my real question - I mean, you know, I've seen some initiatives on the ballot here in Denver. But my question is more along the lines of how can a state, or the federal government for that matter, regulate the rights of other - of the citizen? You know, when it comes down to it, I understand private institutions, churches, stuff like that, they may make their decision on their own. But as for the state, I don't see how it has the right to do this.

CONAN: Well, it's something called the Constitution, which delineates the rights of individuals vis-a-vis the state. And lots of rights are limited and lots of rights are granted. That's how it's done. But I just wonder if we turn it around, what, Joe Solmonese, is going on in Colorado? Or again, there are places that have - may have local opportunities.

Mr. SOLMONESE: Sure. Yeah. There are - well, we certainly at the local - at the municipal level have been successful in passing non-discrimination ordinances and domestic partner bills. We've got a handful of states that have some form of relationship recognition in the form of civil unions or domestic partnership benefits.

But, you know, when we're talking about things like paying into social security for your entire life, and then at the end of that time being able to access your partner's social security survivor benefits, that is something that is only afforded with marriage. It's something...

CONAN: It's that word, marriage.

Mr. SOLMONESE: With marriage. And that is something that the government that is governed by the laws of this country and the social security administration makes those decisions based on whether or not you were married.

CONAN: And civil union would not cover it?

Mr. SOLMONESE: No.

CONAN: All right. We're talking about the - where the fight for gay marriage goes next. What's going on where you live? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get - this is John(ph). John with us from Salem, Oregon.

JOHN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, John. Go ahead.

JOHN: I'm thinking that the words that you just used are illustrative of the problem. I think that if the semantics could be gotten around, if the law that was being passed or the referendum simply said that the two things should be considered legally equal with regard to federal and state benefits, those kinds of things, wouldn't that get around the problem of whether marriage itself can be different kinds of people or whether marriage could be man and woman, and that civil union be recognized - or other name be recognized as a way of joining people of the same sex. And then not confront the issue so that you can say that marriage is being redefined but that it's simply being equated.

CONAN: Okay. We wanted to know what was going on where you are, but maybe that's the battle there in Oregon. If - could you address his question?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, two things. I think the first is that you'd have to change the circumstances for heterosexual people. I mean, there needs to be one measure for benefits to be conveyed to people. But then there's the other question, which I think is even more significant, this notion of separate but equal institutions. We're talking about giving same-sex couples every single thing that is afforded to people who are able to be married. Every single thing being the same, and yet let's not call it marriage. Well, there's a societal problem with that. When I walk into the emergency room and I want to be with or make an end-of-life decision about my partner, and the admitting person is sort of scratching their head and saying, well, wait a minute. You're in civil union or a domestic partnership, not a marriage. You know, there's sort of a societal understanding of what it means to be married in this country. And it isn't just about a word. It really is about the way in which people think about the institution.

CONAN: Is Oregon one of the places that you would think would be ripe for...

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, Oregon is an interesting place. Because of the states that have enacted a constitutional ban, Oregon is the state in which we lost by the narrowest margin. So as we look down the road at the states where we might seek to overturn those bans, Oregon is certainly a place that we would go to first.

CONAN: Well, that's going to be a big campaign once that gets started. Would you seek to see if you could win in other states first before you try to tackle a place like Oregon?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, you know, again, I think it is more about where opportunities present themselves. I mean, obviously, you've got places like New York where we lost in the legislature, but eventually I think we'll win in New York. Other states, Rhode Island and Minnesota, where the pieces may come into place sooner rather than later. But Oregon is a place where I think we begin now and they're doing really brilliant work in Oregon to lay the foundation and open the understanding there and do the education they need to now for, you know, whenever it is that it does present itself.

CONAN: Ken.

RUDIN: You know, Texas, of course, is one of those states that banned - voted against same sex marriage and yet...

Mr. SOLMONESE: On constitutional amendment.

RUDIN: ...constitutional amendment. And yet on Saturday, Annise Parker was elected the first openly gay mayor of Houston, the largest city ever. She didn't run as a gay American, but she is - happens to be gay. Is that a victory for the human rights campaign in some respects?

Mr. SOLMONESE: It's a victory for the entire community. I mean - and I think it's about electing someone like Annise Parker to the fourth largest city in America. And as you said, having her sexual orientation be, you know, a rather small part of the dialogue down there. She was, without question, the most qualified person to do that job. She came in first before she went in to the runoff. And - but it sends a very powerful message all across the country, that someone like Annise Parker would be elected as mayor, absolutely.

CONAN: We have 30 seconds for one more call. Very quickly, John(ph), calling from Reno.

JOHN (Caller): Hey, how are you doing? Here in Nevada, we had it pretty much turned down, as far as, any kind of vote on the issue. And I was wondering why the idea of the civil union versus the marriage, the language hasn't been considered. As far rights I agree with, but why the term marriage and not civil union?

CONAN: All right, we'll get - actually, we spoke with to that just a few minutes ago. There has been, Joe, a very - some people say, why doesn't the state give everybody a civil union. If you want to get married in a church, well, that's up to you.

Mr. SOLMONESE: Yeah. And why don't all people, gay and straight, you know, enter right into a civil union? Most straight people could answer that question pretty quickly.

CONAN: Thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate your time. Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, joined us here in Studio 3A. Stay with us. When we come back, we're going to find out why that bill failed in the New York State Senate. That was an interesting piece of legislation. Everybody thought it was going to be a close vote, could possibly pass and ended up being thumpingly defeated. We'll be talking with Irene Liu again, a reporter from Albany. Stay with us. It's the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: We've been going over our weekly hit of politics with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. And he's with us here in Studio 3A. We've been talking about gay marriage around the country. We want to hear from you, what's happening where you live? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Two weeks ago, a gay marriage bill many people thought was sure to pass went to a thumping defeat in the New York State Senate. It was the latest in a series of defeats for supporters of same-sex marriage. Political reporter Irene Jay Liu joins us now from the state capitol in Albany to tell us more about this turn of events. Nice to have you back on the program.

Ms. LIU: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And usually when the vote is called to the Senate floor, sponsors are pretty sure they've got the votes to win?

Ms. LIU: Absolutely. This is, perhaps, a new era in the state Senate that is now in control by Senate Democrats. They took control in January after winning in the Obama tidal wave in November, last November. And so, yes, this is a, this was a very - this is one of those cases where you talk to anyone going into that chamber the day of the marriage vote, and I don't think anybody could really hazard a guess as to whether or not it was going to pass or not. I think what was surprising was the extent to which it failed. It went down on defeat by a 38 no vote to a 24 yes vote. And I think a lot of people were surprised. The Senate Republicans - not a single Republican voted in favor of gay marriage, and a number of Democrats actually voted against it as well - eight of them did.

CONAN: Yeah. And everybody knew that at least a couple of the Democrats were going to vote against, and they thought several Republicans would cross over.

Ms. LIU: Absolutely. I think what you saw was, I - there was sort of a cascading effect. When people - a lot of people were mentally calculating in their heads who they thought might be yes, who might be no, who might be maybe votes. And when the maybes started voting no, then, you know, when people realized that it wasn't going to pass, everyone voted no because there are many reasons why a lot of elected officials are afraid right now. Number one, there's a very strong anti-incumbent sort of backlash in New York. We saw that in November elections this year, and a lot of people are afraid. The Senate stalemate and the Senate coup over the summer really has put a bad taste in voters' mouths. And the ongoing budget crisis has, you know, is the principal concern. And so I think a lot of senators were afraid.

Also worthy to note is the 23rd congressional race between moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava, conservative candidate Doug Hoffman and Bill Owens. In the end, the moderate Republican was pretty much pushed out after being attacked from both sides. And I think, and in the conservative party chair, Michael Long, who really pushed the conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, had basically said, that's a line in the sand. Gay marriage is a line in the sand. If you want my support, you will not vote in favor of it. And I think that there's been a chilling effect as a result.

CONAN: And we - voters outside the state of New York should understand that in New York, there are basically four parties at the top of the ballot: the Democrats, the Republicans, the conservatives and the liberals. And the Democrats walk the liberal line, conservatives - Republicans walk the conservative line. It's an important factor in everybody's election. Ken?

RUDIN: Well, actually, one thing about the liberal, I think the liberal party is kind of defunct now but (unintelligible) third party's candidate that the left will support. But it was also - it was not only that. It was also that socially conservative Democrats, the Hispanic Latino state senator from the Bronx - was it Diaz, I believe his name, who also gave a very impassioned speech against same-sex marriage. And a lot of Republicans said, look if the Democrats are not going to vote for this, there's no reason why we're going to come forward. We don't want to rescue this Democratic bill which David Patterson, Governor Patterson strongly pushed for.

Ms. LIU: Well, what's interesting about it is I think that you saw probably, you know, a good number of people who are willing to be the 32nd vote basically - or the 33rd vote, actually. If they knew it was going to pass, then they would be - they'd be, you know, jumping on board to help support it. But when they knew that it was - there just weren't the votes to actually make it happen, to make it law, then everyone sort of retrenched back into sort of a more conservative position in terms of their own political well-being.

RUDIN: And you mentioned, of course, that the Democrats control the state Senate. I don't think anybody controls (unintelligible)...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The state Senate.

LIU: That is true, but you know, a point that should me made is that with the Democrats in control, you know, this is the first time that gay marriage has actually been brought to the floor for a vote, win or lose. And I think that that was something that, you know, I mean, gay rights' advocates put - poured over a million dollars in campaign donations to help the Democrats win the majority last year.

And so then throughout the year there's been these ups and downs. And actually many advocates were claiming that they had - they thought that by early summer, they had the votes, Republican and Democrats together to pass gay marriage in the Senate. Of course, then there was the Senate coup and everything was thrown to the wind in terms of any semblance of a legislative agenda. And I think that they really lost steam after that, in terms of trying to pick the pieces.

And so, you know, by the end of the fall, really, gay advocates were saying, we want a vote, win or lose. And so now, you know, many people are saying that, I think, that on one hand - one is that there was a sense, I think, some supporters actually believe that they were - they did have the votes to pass it, even going into that day. And number two, now, sort of in the aftermath, they want to use this as a template for crafting their 2010 strategy.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Karen(ph). Karen, with us from Geneva, New York.

KAREN (Caller): Yes. I - which is in upstate New York. And I live in the legislative district of a Republican congressman who I have met with on several occasions and - to ask him to support same-sex marriage. And this time around he told me, while he was glad that I took the time to come and speak with him, that it didn't really matter to him how his constituents felt, that it was against his values to support same-sex marriage and said that he would vote against it no matter how it was brought about.

CONAN: This was a member of Congress?

KAREN: New York, New York. Actually the - my state senator.

CONAN: Your state senator?

KAREN: I'm sorry. I thought it was assemblyman, but it was our state senator.

CONAN: Your state - and was there - could you tell us his name?

KAREN: Michael Nozzolio.

CONAN: Michael Nozzolio. And I assume he was one of the solid Republicans, Irene Liu, to vote against this.

Ms. LIU: He�

KAREN: Yeah. And which, you know, he did, although he did vote against same-sex marriage and I know that he will no matter how it's brought about, I do want to - you know, he did support gender expression and those kinds of things, but he was not willing to break these party lines on the same-sex marriage issue.

Ms. LIU: As a point to this, this question of party line, I mean, to his credit, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos had basically told his conference to vote their conscience on this. He had said: there is no party line. Everyone vote the way that you want to based on your own views and your own thoughts on this. And - but as a result, part of the murkiness in terms of counting the votes was his conference - he never made the point of counting the votes in terms of, you know, polling his members to find out.

CONAN: I see.

Ms. LIU: So you know, that's why there was a lot of question about, you know, how many votes there really are, yes or no.

CONAN: Karen, thanks very much for the call.

KAREN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And Irene Jay Liu, thank you for your time as always.

Ms. LIU: Thank you.

CONAN: Irene Jay Liu is a political reporter for the Albany Times Union, and she joined us from her office in Albany. Ken Rudin will be back with us next week. You can read his blog and hear his podcast if you go to npr.org.

Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And when we come back, it's the politics of diplomacy - a little absurd.

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