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May 5, 2009 6:07 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Fred Thiele backs gay marriage bill

May 5, 2009 6:07 PM

Republican State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., in a surprising about-face, has decided to co-sponsor legislation that would allow gay marriage in New York.

In doing so, Mr. Thiele becomes just the fifth Republican in the State Assembly to back gay marriage. The assembly is expected to begin debating the bill next week.

Mr. Thiele said this week that he had long been bothered by his vote against a similar marriage equity bill that came before the assembly in 2007, which he said he opposed, in part, because he had been afraid of a political backlash against a yes vote.

“Politics should have little to do with this. It should be decided on the merits,” said Mr. Thiele, who likened the inability of gay couples to marry to the Jim Crow laws that governed segregation.

“Civil unions get back to the concept of separate but equal,” he said. “I had high hopes that civil unions would be satisfactory, but individuals haven’t had the same rights.”

In a release announcing his decision, Mr. Thiele cited a December 2008 decision of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission that the civil union experiment in New Jersey had been a failure. According to the commission’s findings, many hospitals and employers do not recognize the rights of couples who have civil unions.

“The separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children,” read the report.

“For me it was ultimately my own friends and professional associates. Some were constituents, but most were people I’d known professionally for decades,” who convinced Mr. Thiele that his 2007 vote had been the wrong choice.

“I just was never comfortable with my vote two years ago,” he said.

One of those constituents was Sag Harbor resident Ken Dorph, who had asked to meet with Mr. Thiele just days before he made public his sponsorship of the marriage equality bill.

“I’m really delighted that Fred came on board. I’ve known him for years, and I think it’s consistent with his idea of equality,” said Mr. Dorph, who lives with his partner of 30 years, Stuart Lowrie and their two adopted children.

Though Mr. Dorph and Mr. Lowrie were married in Vancouver in 2004, they plan to have another wedding in Sag Harbor if the bill becomes law. He said that while he still feels legally married in New York because Governor David Paterson has said that he will recognize same-sex marriages, there are still many unknowns regarding whether they can file joint tax returns or do other routine things that straight married couples take for granted.

“It matters to us that our kids have married parents. I have to pay taxes on Stuart’s health care and if he’s in the hospital I can’t get in. These are very real things,” he added. “It’s not about religious definitions of marriage. It’s a separate issue. In Europe if you get a marriage in church, you separately have to go to the Justice of the Peace. This is the civil marriage that people have asked for. I’ve already been married in my own church, but I do not have rights and responsibilities that come with this.”

“If all straight people had kids and no gay people had kids, I could accept having two standards of marriage because civil marriage was originally about property and kids,” he added. “Most fair, reasonable people are starting to separate the religious concept from the civil.”

Mr. Dorph said that while despite Mr. Thiele’s no vote, the State Assembly had overwhelmingly passed the marriage equality bill in 2007, it will likely meet more resistance in the State Senate, where several Democrats have said that they will not support the bill.

“Senator LaValle has voted against marriage equality. I hope he will come around,” said Mr. Dorph. “Maybe Fred’s example will help him be courageous.”

Mr. LaValle could not be reached for comment.

“I think public opinion is changing rapidly on this,” he added. “It’s a huge generational difference. As soon as you have a nephew or neighbor that’s gay, a lot of the prejudices fall away.”

Mr. Thiele has likely taken that cue from his neighbors and friends in his home district. He said that he made his decision without thought for any potential political ramifications, though he said that he remembered experiencing a backlash when he voted to disallow discrimination based on sexual orientation when he was a member of the Suffolk County Legislature in 1988.

“I know there are going to be political implications, but I haven’t given much thought to how it would affect me personally,” he said of his decision.

Mr. Thiele is now just the 52nd Republican state legislator nationwide to back marriage equality, according to Log Cabin Republicans, a group of Republicans fighting for civil rights for gay Americans.

He is joined in the New York State Assembly by Teresa Sayward, Dede Scozzafava, Joel Miller and Janet Duprey.

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Mr. Thiele, Congratulations on recognizing that the world is changing and old bigotries are losing support by the minute. Whom a person marries is their own business and it is about time the government gets out of the way.
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on May 5, 09 4:43 PM
Well I can see I won't be voting for Fred Thiele anymore .
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on May 5, 09 6:32 PM
fred have liked most of your stands but this one is just wrong
god meant for a man and a woman to be married whats this about two men or two woman?????????????
By free2 (7), east hampton on May 5, 09 8:14 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By jonbmaher, New York on May 5, 09 10:03 PM
Good for you, Fred. It's nobody's business who someone else wants to marry. Why put a legal fence around love.
By number19 (111), Westhampton on May 5, 09 10:56 PM
Who is Bill?
By we could run this town! (129), wonderful Wainscott on May 6, 09 7:04 AM
It seems Fred is losing his republican values, especially on Immigration and gay marriages just to name a few. Its time for change and Fred needs to go.Fred has overstayed his welcome far to long.I wish the party's would find a worthy challenger because theirs a lot of votes out there for that person especially now.Who ever that may be will get my vote.
By Shout ot loud (20), Southampton on May 6, 09 7:13 AM
Fred, that is SO GREAT!
By eastendlocal (28), southampton on May 6, 09 7:17 AM
A read through these comment boards and you would think this is a deep south newspaper. I am constantly amazed by the bigotry and hatreds expressed here.
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on May 6, 09 8:19 AM
Fred, if all elected officials were as thoughtful and ethical as you the country would be a much nice place. Thank you.
By jm (17), Hampton Bays on May 6, 09 8:51 AM
Fred, I applaud you for this decision. It's funny to read the comments from "Shout ot loud", "PrivateerMatt", "free2" and "INS". The sentiments they express on these boards are exactly why the Republicans have lost so much support over the last decade. Republicans are associated with bigotry and these sort of comments strengthen that association. It's also funny that people like "Shout ot loud", "PrivateerMatt", "free2" and "INS" kick and scream about government interference when it comes to ...more
By Good Ground (24), Hampton Bays on May 6, 09 9:14 AM
so great to see more racists and bigots in our lovely town.

Republican Values = rage, hatred, division, dogma
By littleplains (305), olde england on May 6, 09 9:43 AM
Fred you are a disappointment!! Call it a civil union NOT a marriage. You lost my vote.
By bayview (160), Southampton on May 6, 09 10:22 AM

Are you talking about the same founders who kept slaves and wouldn't let women vote until 100 years ago? Are those the values being destroyed?

Lets hope so.

I love people who get on these boards and threaten violence with "moving targets who talk trash"... classy

By littleplains (305), olde england on May 6, 09 10:26 AM
What about this definition of marriage (from Webster's)

"a formal agreement between two companies or enterprises to combine operations, resources, etc., for mutual benefit; merger."

i'm not sure people can even get married.

Why would anyone want to get married - seems silly

By dogfacejones (81), Southampton on May 6, 09 10:42 AM
A while ago, it was legal in the states of these United States to ban interracial marriage. In 1976 The Supreme Court (Loving vs Virginia) ruled against laws that banned interracial marriages. The arc of history is toward freedom and liberty. Those of you who are against gay maariage are on the wrong side of history. Besides, if Iowa could approve gay marriages, we can't in NY?
By number19 (111), Westhampton on May 6, 09 10:49 AM
Dogface, I am sooo with you. The only ones to benefit are divorce lawyers!
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on May 6, 09 10:56 AM
Fred-why did you feel the need to make a statement on this issue when in our town we have so many other issues that will have a great impact on our communities and future economy? Any-way...since you did...I am a Roman Catholic and as far as the Church is concerned ...marriage is between a man and a woman by definition...with that said -GOD SAID ALSO to "love one another-"--he didn't specify! So, being human-I try to follow God's basic lesson.
I know that they will not beable to be married ...more
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on May 6, 09 1:26 PM
Another "PHONY" -Thiele is looking to keep his elected job and it seems that momentum is on the side of this issue.
By kpjc (161), east quogue on May 6, 09 6:34 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on May 6, 09 10:08 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By dogfacejones (81), Southampton on May 7, 09 12:56 PM
Whatever Fred's motivations may be behind his change of heart, I congratulate him for standing up against the party line and doing the right thing. This isn't about "accepting" gays, just as heterosexual marriage is not about "accepting" Christianity. It's simply about equal protection under the constitution. Any and all arguments against gay marriage are legally without merit, and any and all attempts to fight it, especially the insistence on "civil unions" as an alternative, is nothing more ...more
By HEJIRANYC (32), Sag Harbor on May 8, 09 9:28 AM
HEJIRANYC-I was with you up until the point you started twisted blame on organized religion...that's where you became a bigot!
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on May 8, 09 10:53 AM
Bigot=an obstinate and intolerant believer in a religion,poltitcal theory,etc.
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on May 8, 09 11:02 AM
Good for you, Fred.
Separate is not equal.
Equality for all.
By easthamptoner (34), easy hampton on May 8, 09 11:18 AM
Congratulations on your thoughtful and brave position. I'm sure it's difficult dealing with the homophobic, immoral right wing of your party, but you did the right thing.

You'll always have my vote.
By Steven (113), Westhampton on May 9, 09 5:38 PM
I'm not really up on this whole controversy. I'm not sure why anyone cares who someone else marries. Taking away any religious connitation, what will the gay people get from marriage? Why is it a problem? How is it any different or less acceptable than "living in sin"? Real questions people.....not being sarcastic. Thanks
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on May 10, 09 7:39 AM
Isn't bigotry just a giant redwood in Italy?
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on May 10, 09 8:09 AM
Isn't "innuendo" what they call Preperation H in the same country?
By William Rodney (561), southampton on May 10, 09 1:24 PM
love learning about my neighbors reading these comments. Equally important, i love learning more about the integrity of our assemblyman. I'm proud to come from a place where the representatives we elect have the courage to do the right thing, and not be bullied by those in this town whose narrowmindness or self-interest gets in the way of protecting the rights of us all. Civil rights is a con and a cop out. And for the wonderful citizens of our beautiful town who are fortuante enough to have kids ...more
By easthamptondream (4), east hampton on May 10, 09 9:50 PM
Thiele is an example of what's wrong with the GOP, and why they are on the back foot. Instead of giving most American people what they want, which is a thrifty, socially-conservative government which is strong on defense, they try to turn the party into "Democrat LITE"; which guarantees victory to the Democrats. Bring back Reagan. The Right needs an articulate voice to go head-to-head with Obama.
By Blackjordan (15), Sag Harbor on May 12, 09 6:59 PM
I have a great idea... Why don't we ditch all the politicians, and elect people? Personally, the divergent parties just remind me of how religion taught me "I was different than everyone else" at a very young age... At an age where differences were bad...
I'm proud to say... I wasn't listening....

Screw Reagan, resurrect our fore fathers! I want powdered wigs, and feathered ink.. At least it will be acceptable to laugh at the farce....
By The Royal 'We' (199), Southampton on May 13, 09 9:15 AM
I am fine with gay marriage, and don't think that my say should influence whether or not two people should be able to marry.

Littleplains and Peoplefirst, you two should be ashamed of yourselves. You guys aren't even expressing your feelings on the issue, your just accusing people being bigots and racists. You guys sicken me. If you don't agree with a point of view, than you have the right to say so, but accusing anyone who opposes you of being prejudice is an offensive tactic that ...more
By AlwaysLocal (292), southampton on May 13, 09 2:10 PM