In an editorial back on June 27, 2011, we said the votes to legalize gay marriage in New York by four Republican state senators would have been worthy of mention in “Profiles in Courage,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by John F. Kennedy and Theodore Sorensen.
James Alesi of Rochester, Roy McDonald of Saratoga Springs, Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie and Mark Grisanti of Buffalo defied threats by their party leadership and did what was right for history.
But, as was feared, not right for their political careers.
On Thursday, Saland conceded his re-election race against Democrat Terry Gipson, which was too close to call on election night. Even an endorsement from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo couldn’t help Saland pull through.
Cuomo, an ardent supporter of the 2011 legislation, had called the four Republicans “people of courage, people of principle” and recognized that their votes were “politically more dangerous.”
Saland’s defeat means that three of the four courageous Republicans paid for their crucial vote with their jobs. McDonald, who had said that anyone who wanted to vote him out of office for following his conscience could “take this job and shove it,” lost in a Republican primary. Alesi retired. Grisanti was re-elected.
In retrospect, it is amazing that Saland made the race as close as he did. He had to spend money and time to narrowly beat back a primary challenge from conservative Republican Neil DiCarlo. DiCarlo’s name on the Conservative Party line took away thousands of votes from Saland in the general election, and cost him his seat.
Which is a shame.
Saland served in the Senate for 22 years, and 10 years in the Assembly before that, and as noted by state Republican Chairman Ed Cox, authored more than 350 laws in the areas of criminal justice, people with disabilities, economic development and environmental protection.
“I want to be sure to acknowledge the long, distinguished career of Sen. Saland,” Gipson said. “I think I can speak for all the people of Dutchess and Columbia counties in thanking him for his selfless dedication and service.”
Saland said last year that his parents always taught him to “do the right thing.”
“My intellectual and emotional journey has ended here today,” he said after casting his vote, “and I have to define doing the right thing as treating all people with equality.”
Doubtless there will be those in the GOP who will rejoice at getting rid of three of the four members of their party who put principle above politics. But theirs is at best a hollow victory that deserves the contempt of mainstream New Yorkers … and history.