Rich Republicans Given the Credit for Passing Gay Marriage

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Michael Barbaro wrote a blockbuster piece for the New York Times on the behind-the-scene story of how the gay marriage law was passed in New York. He suggests that on the surface, the story of gay marriage may be about about "shifting public sentiment" and "emotional appeals from gay couples." But behind this optimistic picture, it was really about "top Republican moneymen helping a Democratic rival with one of his biggest legislative goals."

Barbaro focuses on Cuomo's efforts behind the law, but without rich Republican donors, it would not be possible.

But the donors in the room — the billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, joined by the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb — had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views.

Within days, the wealthy Republicans sent back word: They were on board. Each of them cut six-figure checks to the lobbying campaign that eventually totaled more than $1 million.

The Wall Street Journal likewise provides a behind-the-scenes story highlighting the efforts of the Gill Action Fund, a "powerful gay-rights group" led by Tim Gill, "a libertarian-leaning philanthropist from Denver." Gill's political director is Bill Smith, "an Alabama-born political operative" who began his career "working under the tutelage of Karl Rove."

Last year, Mr. Gill's group pumped in nearly $1 million into a political action committee called Fight Back NY, which financed attack ads against three vulnerable senators—Democrats Hiram Monserrate and Bill Stachowski and Republican Frank Padavan—who voted against the bill in 2009. They lost their seats to gay-marriage friendly candidates.

Mr. Smith also raised more than $1 million from Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman

Both the Journal and the Times seem to take the attitude that this is just how things are done. Sure, it seems to take some of the passion and the sense of "rightness" out of the law; the Journal describes how Senate Republicans were influenced by survey results that showed that "while most Republicans opposed gay marriage, fewer of them cared enough about it to make it a decisive factor at the ballot box." But it's hardly news that many major laws and Supreme Court decisions are the product of interest convergence, or aligning the desires of wealthy Republicans with other social justice agendas, rather than the nation as a whole coming around to the idea that prohibiting gay marriage is discriminatory. But both pieces suggests that the passage of the gay marriage law in New York was a discrete occurrence, an exception rather than a sign that tolerance is the new rule. Max Read at Gawker comments:

This is how things get done, in government, now! Rich people decide they want things, and then they use their money to get them. This works great when rich people, or their friends, or their families, are victims of injustice —which is what happened last night.

But there aren't a lot of millionaire libertarians on medicaid, or getting food stamps, or looking for jobs! Which means that in those "secret meetings" between the super-rich Repblicans and the governor (or the president!), people on medicaid don't get brought up very often—and bills (or budget deals) that might actually help them aren't presented, or lobbied for, almost ever. And until a libertarian-leaning philanthropist comes out as poor, or a billionaire Republican has a working-class son, don't expect that to change.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.