The New York Marriage Equality Act, signed into law on June 25, 2011, was a central issue in several GOP primary elections for state legislature last Thursday.
Four Republican Senators broke ranks in 2011 and supported the bill, making it possible for the legislature to enact legislation legalizing same sex marriage in New York.
Three faced challenges from the far right last week, and in each the challenger’s campaign centered on the incumbent’s vote in favor of marriage equality. While Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo soundly won reelection, the outcome of challenges to Senators Roy McDonald of Saratoga and Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie are yet to be finalized.
The fourth Republican to break ranks in 2011 was Senator James Alesi, the Rochester Republican who decided to retire rather than face a significant challenge in the GOP primary on account of his support of marriage equality.
Important to note, however, is the extreme voter fatigue currently permeating throughout New York. New Yorkers have already gone to the polls for both the congressional primaries and the presidential primary on two different dates. This caused a significant drop in GOP turnout, due to voters reluctant to go to the polls for a third time before the November general election. Therefore, the results in last Thursday’s GOP primary should not be seen as a sweeping mandate for a repeal of the Marriage Equality Act.
Instead, these election results are the result of a zealous minority taking advantage of low turnout to make a loud statement to GOP incumbents: moderates and Republicans who move to the left on any issue will be challenged and defeated for reelection.
Viewed in this way, the most significant outcome of the election has nothing to do with marriage equality, but instead is that Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and Speaker Sheldon Silver will have no ability to negotiate with a reasonable opposition to complete the work of the state. Republican legislators will be too fearful of conservative challengers to cooperate in bipartisan legislation not supported by the radical right of the GOP.
Currently, Senator Saland is leading his opponent by .42 percent, or fifty votes, and Senator McDonald trails his opponent by .9 percent, or 124 votes. The outcome of these critical primaries will be dependent on the counting of absentee ballots this week.
Ironically, the conservative wing of the Republican Party’s efforts to maintain conservative values in their Republican senators could prove catastrophic to their effort to retain control of the Senate. The conservative challengers to Senators McDonald and Saland are both far less electable than the incumbents. A loss in either of these races by the incumbent would be a significant boost to the Democratic effort to take over the Senate.
The Republican Party should be wary of forcing the moderate voters out of their party in the upcoming years. The formula of fiscally conservative policy combined with moderate social policy has proven successful for state Republican Parties in the Northeast. The only result of a uniform shift of the New York State Republican Party to the right will be its losing control of the Senate and future cycles of single party rule for the Democrats.