More than 100 people gathered in a free-speech zone across the street from state senator Marty Golden’s Fifth Avenue office yesterday evening to protest his position on gay marriage. Golden not only doesn’t support the marriage-equality momentum moving through Albany, but he has also positioned himself as a leader in the fight against it, going so far as to introduce legislation that would end New York’s policy of recognizing gay marriages from other states, even though support for gay marriage among residents of New York state is at all-time highs.
The rally, co-sponsored by a slew of progressive and reformist Brooklyn Democratic groups, attracted many local lefty leaders, including Park Slope’s councilman, Brad Lander, former Golden opponent Mike DiSanto, and district leaders Joanne Seminara, Chris Owens, and Lincoln Restler.
“The man is an arch-conservative,” Restler said of Golden. “He’s got southern Brooklyn confused with the deep South.”
Golden recently told the Post that his constituents “don’t really give a rat’s ass about social issues,” and the rally was treated both as an offer to Golden to change his mind about the issue—both Lander and Restler promised not to support a Democratic challenger in the next election if Golden supported marriage equality now—but also as a chance for his electorate to show that they care deeply about marriage equality.
One popular sign was an illustration of a rodent sticking out his butt. “We do give a rat’s ass,” it read.
“It’s 2011 and you better wake up,” community board member Scott Klein directed toward Golden. “This neighborhood is not what you think it is. They’re not people who live in the past.”
The rally occupied roughly a third of the east side of Fifth Avenue, in front of Golden’s old office and across the street from his new one, which was closed and shuttered. (Many protesters voiced confusion about where it was.)
The owners of Robicelli’s, who have also started a “Small Business Owners for NY Marriage Equality” group on Facebook, attended with their two children. Allison held a homemade sign that read “Republicans for Equality”; her boy held one that read “I Love My Aunts.” “I’ve lost followers over this,” Allison told me, “but I don’t care.”
Though some in the crowd came from as far as Flushing to attend the rally, others came from as close as around the corner. Many were impressed not only by the turnout but also by the rally’s overwhelming positivity and progressivism in historically conservative Bay Ridge.
“This is a watershed moment for Bay Ridge,” said Justin Brannan, the president of Bay Ridge Democrats. “We’re a part of history right now.”
While some measure of homophobic backlash could reasonably have been expected, filmmaker Mike “Bay Rizz” Rizzo, who conducted several man-on-the-street interviews during the event, told me the reaction he’d experienced had all been positive. “That lady there,” he said, gesturing toward an elderly woman eating a 99-cent bag of Utz, “she cursed out Marty Golden left and right.” (Soon after he told me this, a scratchy voiced woman shouted “Marty Golden’s gay!” from a window overlooking the avenue.)
“It’s great to see this side of Bay Ridge,” Sarah Brown, a local resident, said, “and not just the ‘Steve’s Bagels’ side.” Passing cars sporadically honked in support, including one Mr. Softee truck. Even a fortysomething cop out of contemporary central casting, with a shaved head and mustache, was overheard telling a member of the crowd, “I don’t care. Love is love.”
“The times are changing,” Seminara, who is also the chair of the local community board, told me.
But one activist told me the neighborhood’s conservatism has been waning for a while. He cited an anti-war march we’d both attended back in the Bush years, in which a similar number of people who were here had walked down Third Avenue, the area’s major commercial strip, from one side of the neighborhood to former congressman Vito Fossella‘s old office near 86th Street on the other. Just two weeks ago, in fact, there’d been a UFT rally.
“Where?” I asked him.
“Right here,” he said, in front of Golden’s office.
“Ah, I guess this is the prime spot.”
“He’s a jerk for all seasons.”