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Gov. Paterson on Gay Marriage in New York

Gov. Paterson on Gay Marriage in New York

The Situation Room - April 16, 2009

BLITZER: Major statement today from the governor of New York State, the governor saying the time has come to bring marriage equality to the state of New York.

The governor, David Paterson, introducing legislation to allow same-sex marriage.

Governor Paterson is joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

PATERSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why now? Why did you decide this is a good time to bring back this issue of authorizing same-sex marriage in New York State?

PATERSON: Well, Wolf, I think Americans have a viscerally negative reaction to same-sex marriage when you first hear about it.

But then, when you realize that there are over 1,300 protections that people who are married have, that people who are not married don't, even if they are living together in a sort of civil union, you realize that this is more than just a religious ceremony. It is a contract.

And while many religious groups oppose marriage equality -- and we respect them, that they are the tenets of their religion -- we are a state, which in many respects issues that contract. And we think that, when people can't put their loved one on an insurance policy or a health benefit plan, when they have no rights of intestacy when their partner dies, and when they can't make medical decisions for that person in a hospital or even visit them in a hospital, that the only way to cure it would be to allow for same-sex marriage, which we're proposing in New York.

BLITZER: Because, many of your colleagues, including Democrats, the president of the United States, President Obama, says, you know what, they can work all these legal issues out with civil unions, and not necessarily go that next step and authorize, you know, same-sex marriage.

Why do you disagree with President Obama?

PATERSON: Well, I think that what the president says is true.

But we have waited years and years for states to work those legal issues out, and nobody has actually been able to do it. And so we think that the right of people at this time in history, when we have so many conflicts and so many wars, just to live in peace with each other and call themselves married to me is not one of those issues that I would get upset about, as much as the economic and social unrest and the 23 different wars, conflicts that we have around the globe.

I think this is something that we could allow citizens of New York State to have, if that's what they desire.

BLITZER: Is it your sense that you could get this passed this time? Because they tried. It got through the assembly in New York State in Albany, didn't get through the senate. It was dropped.

What do your political instincts say right now? Will this become the law in New York State?

PATERSON: Right now, I think the assembly will pass the law again. The senate will have some difficulty passing it.

But we thought that, in terms of advocacy, to have the issue on the floor being debated and being discussed was better than holding back. And so I thought that this was the right time to introduce a piece of legislation such as this.

It was introduced two years ago by the previous governor, when I was lieutenant governor, and we were able to get far more votes in the assembly. It was predicted to pass there. So, we think that the energy that we are putting into the process will inevitably bring marriage equality to New York State.

BLITZER: There have been articles, as you have probably heard about, in various publications in New York State saying, this is a political ploy on the part of the governor, David Paterson. He wants to get reelected. He thinks this will help them, at a time when your job approval numbers are not very good.

What do you say to your critics?

PATERSON: I would say that I supported this issue in 1994. I supported it when I was a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006.

The governor, Eliot Spitzer and I, introduced this bill in 2007. And I lobbied and helped pass it in the assembly. And when -- in 2008, when my poll numbers were very high, I actually recognized marriages outside of New York State in the state under the doctrines of our constitution that permit that.

So, I don't think I have been anything other than consistent. The political expediency, I would say, is really, on many respects, on the other side of the issue that throws up any reason, rather than consider this piece of legislation, which would only give people the right to live together in a marital contract, so that they would have rights vis-a-vis their partner...

BLITZER: All right.

PATERSON: ... which we don't allow for in our society now.

BLITZER: The recent poll -- there was a poll taken by Quinnipiac University -- showed, in a hypothetical contest between you and the attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, he would do much better, 61 percent, only 18 percent for you, leading Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, the Republican, to say this in "The New York Times: "Yes, it's true the current governor is terrible. Yes, it's true the government is indefensible, but let me tell you, if I had to bet money, you're not going to face the current governor next year. You have got to design a campaign that beats Cuomo."

First of all, you're definitely running for reelection, right?

PATERSON: I'm definitely running for reelection.

And, if you notice, the real desire is to have me not run, because they know, if I do, I will probably win. And, so, what I am trying to do right now is not think as much about elections, but what's right for the state.

We just balanced a budget deficit that was four times higher than the state had ever faced before. And we did it proportionally and distributed a shared sacrifice around the state. And I think, when people get a chance to look back, because it's so shocking how much in deficit New York State is, they will realize that some of the tough decisions that we made and some of the prohibitive cuts that we had to exercise were actually the right decisions for the state at that time.

BLITZER: Governor Paterson, thanks very much for coming in.

PATERSON: Thank you, Wolf. It's always a pleasure to join you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

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