Bloomberg Invokes 1969’s Stonewall Inn Uprising in Call for Gay Marriage

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, citing the riot at the city's Stonewall Inn in 1969 that led to the gay-rights movement, called for state lawmakers to approve a bill allowing same-sex marriage.

“The time has come for us to fulfill the dreams that exploded into Sheridan Square 42 years ago: to allow thousands of men and women to become full members of the American family, and to take the next step on the inspiring journey our founding fathers first began,” Bloomberg said today in a speech at Manhattan’s Cooper Union college.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is making the issue a central tenet of his statewide tour to prod lawmakers to approve the measure alongside a property tax cap and tighter rules on ethics. The Senate defeated a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage in 2009. Bloomberg traveled to Albany this month to lobby lawmakers on the issue before their session ends June 20.

In June 1969 a police raid on the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village resulted in a spontaneous revolt. Gay men and lesbians threw beer cans and other projectiles at officers, who responded with beatings and arrests. At that time, same-sex relationships were a crime under New York law, Bloomberg said.

Outlawing Slavery

The mayor spoke across the street from the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered a historic speech on slavery at the college more than 150 years ago. That speech won him the support of Republican Party leaders in the East and led to his presidential nomination, according to the Library of Congress.

“Today, a majority of Americans support marriage equality and young people increasingly view marriage equality in much the same way as young people in the 1960s viewed civil rights,” Bloomberg said. “The next great barrier standing before our generation is the prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples.

“It is not a matter of if -- but when,” he said.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who voted against the 2009 bill, declined to comment on the specifics of Bloomberg’s remarks.

“We’re going to discuss this issue over the next couple weeks and will make a decision about whether a bill on this will be brought to the floor,” Reif said by telephone from Albany. Skelos, of Rockville Centre in suburban Long Island, won’t prevent a vote if desired by the members of the Republican caucus, which controls the Senate 32-30, he said.

Invoking Douglass

Bloomberg invoked historical figures including abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women’s suffrage champion Susan B. Anthony to urge legislators to stand up for equality. Failure to pass the measure will harm New York’s competitive edge and reputation as a bastion of freedom, he said.

“The question for every New York state lawmaker is: Do you want to be remembered as a leader on civil rights? Or an obstructionist?” he said. “Conservatives believe that government should not intrude into people’s personal lives -- and it’s just none of the government’s business who you love.”

The mayor’s remarks will help set the national agenda toward granting same-sex marriage rights, said Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, a Washington-based advocacy group.

“We have the mayor, we have the governor, we have our two U.S. senators fighting passionately for this,” Socarides, a former special assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, said in an interview following the speech. “This event this afternoon is evidence that all the stops are being pulled out.”

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Esmé E. Deprez in New York at edeprez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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