I have a mea culpa to make this week. While I am completely a-political, heck I don’t even vote, I do believe that what I do for a living requires a sound understanding of politics and the political system. Last week, I was certain that legislation in New York to allow people of the same sex to marry would never see the light of day and make it onto the Senate floor. On Saturday, I was proven incorrect.
In the time that I have been working to support various government affairs operations, I have learned an important lesson. All issues, be they as contentious as same-sex marriage, or as mundane as renaming a street, have advocates and an opposition. And every legislative body, from city council to Congress, splits with about a third of the members supporting the issue, about a third opposing the issue, and about a third who are undecided. I am convinced that the power of having better messages and information than the opponents; and of presenting those messages through as many partners and allies as possible is what wins a legislative battle.
It appeared to me as if the proponents of same-sex marriage in New York were using a traditional, emotional, appeal for the bill. While this provides good cover to those supporting gay marriage, emotional messages would generally not have much sway on the Republican caucus in the Senate and might even in some cases dissuade members who needed a different kind of cover if they wanted to vote affirmatively on the bill. Simply put, there seemed to be little political reason for the Republican Caucus in the Senate to bring the bill to the floor.
When the bill was passed last week, I was stunned. How could something this contentious pass with little in the way of economic, business, or even fiscal messaging? An article published over the weekend in the New York Times answered the question.
Usually the proponents of change have a heavier lift than opponents, but both sides need to field a team in the battle, and both need to message. In this case, the traditional marriage side simply did a terrible job lobbying their position. On top of that, according to the Times, rather than allowing the historically ill-organized proponents of the measure to go about their normal lobbying campaign, the state’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, took it upon himself to organize and manage the campaign. Governor Cuomo, correctly I believe, felt that the ill-organized and unfocused lobby had contributed to the defeat of virtually the same bill only 2 years before.
This time, the campaign was focused, brought in business advocates (it was claimed in the Times article that getting Xerox to support the measure was key in getting Senator Alesi from Rochester to support the measure), presented fiscal and economic arguments, and did a good job of taking away the emotional messages of the opposition.
In the end, the side that put the weaker team, the weaker messages and the weaker coalition on the field was in fact defeated and same sex couples will be allowed to marry in New York State by the end of the summer.
So mea culpa, I was wrong in believing that this bill would not see the light of day based on what I casually observed. A thorough analysis of what was going on, and how the various campaigns on both sides of this contentious issue, were developing their messages would have shown that this bill would likely pass long before it came to the floor of the New York Senate.