The Manufactured ‘Costly Toll’ For Republicans Who Support Marriage Equality

New York Sen. Mark Grisanti (R) won re-election despite an anti-gay campaign against him.

Thursday’s New York Times featured an article about the “costly toll” of the election for the four Republican Senators in New York who broke from their party in 2011 to vote for marriage equality. The National Organization for Marriage waged a campaign of vengeance against James Alesi, Roy McDonald, Mark Grisanti, and Stephen Saland, and because only one of those four will be returning to office in 2013, conservatives have claimed a victory. Rev. Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms was all too happy to boast:

MCGUIRE: People just don’t forget these things. I hope that what the Senate Republicans will have learned in the last election cycle is that policies of appeasement always fail. And essentially that’s what they did: they caved to the governor and really more liberal-minded interests rather than their core constituency.

Of course, several of the Senators explained that their minds had actually changed and they were voting their consciences, but conservatives only see the marriage equality as a betrayal. There are two main problems with the vengeance campaign. First, the likelihood of it actually impacting the fate of marriage equality in New York was marginal, if not “futile,” because New York doesn’t even have a referendum process. Secondly, the campaign didn’t actually work, because three of the seats are still occupied by Senators who support marriage equality.

Sen. Alesi chose not to seek re-election, so it’s difficult to say that he was “defeated.” He was also mired in a controversy that had nothing to do with his vote on same-sex marriage. The seat was filled by Democrat Ted O’Brien, who also supports marriage equality. Not only was this a failure for the vengeance campaign, it was a loss of an otherwise conservative seat for Republicans.

Sen. Saland faced a tough primary challenge from Neil Di Carlo, who stayed in the race as a Conservative candidate after losing the primary. Because Saland and Di Carlo split support from conservatives, Democrat Terry W. Gipson squeaked out a victory after Saland finally conceded this week. Like O’Brien, Gipson also supports marriage equality. Here again, conservatives lost Republican control of a seat because they insisted on championing an alternative candidate who opposes marriage equality.

Sen. Grisanti retained his seat. Though Conservative candidate Chuck Swanick took 11 percent of the vote, Grisanti still won handily over his Democratic opponent Mike Amodeo, garnering 50 percent of the vote. This easy victory was in spite of bullying tactics employed by NOM, including a “You’re Next” billboard.

Only Sen. McDonald counts as a true win in the vengeance campaign. He lost his Republican primary to conservative challenger Kathleen Marchione, who went on to win in the general election.

If the measure of the effort is how many marriage equality-supporting Republicans did not return to office, then the anti-gay front can claim success, but that is merely a manufactured rhetorical victory. Three of the four seats are still occupied by marriage equality supporters, and Republicans lost control of two of them. It’s impossible to frame that outcome as anything but a net win for LGBT equality and progressive values.