When Is a Flip Not a Flop? the Fate of the Republicans Who Supported Gay Marriage
At the end of January, New York’s Conservative Party, the most influential of the minor parties that complicate the state’s politics, celebrated its 50th anniversary at a Holiday Inn near the Albany airport, a vast and dingy venue that reminded me of athlete housing left over from the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Politicians like former Gov. George Pataki, who owed his election to the Conservatives, came to pay homage to the party for its record of steering the state’s politics to the right.
But one calamity darkened the mood of nostalgia and self-congratulation: the passage last summer of a law legalizing same-sex marriage. For many New Yorkers, the June 24 marriage vote was a rare moment of goosebump drama from a capital better known for tedious dysfunction. For the Conservatives, and in particular for Mike Long, the ex-marine who has been the party’s chairman for nearly half of its history, the vote was a triple humiliation.
It was, first, a defining triumph for the state’s ambitious new Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. Second, it was an abandonment by Republican leaders, who had invoked party discipline to kill similar legislation in 2009. This time the Republican leaders publicly opposed gay marriage, but knowing that both public opinion and lobbying muscle were coalescing on the other side, they freed their members to vote as they wished. And that led to what was, for Mike Long, an unforgivable betrayal. All four of the Republican senators who voted for the bill and provided the necessary margin for it to pass had been elected with the Conservative endorsement, a prize for which opposition to gay marriage was an essential litmus test. Two of those wayward senators would not have won their seats without the Conservative boost.
Try as they might to explain away the defections — perhaps it was the lure of money from gay hedge-fund billionaires, or some devilish deal with Cuomo — the Conservatives feared that this defeat, if not punished, could mean an ominous loss of influence.
The four Republican apostates now had targets on their backs.