Ferrer’s Pro-Gay Stance Costly?

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In the wake of the last Presidential election where gay marriage played a decisive role in voter turnout, second time mayoral hopeful Fernando Ferrer must walk a tightrope between liberal Manhattan voters and his more traditional Bronx base. With a history of support for gay rights and a recent endorsement of marriage rights, Ferrer is banking on the notion that ethnic pride will trump religious conservatism for his Latino community.  Though it is unlikely that gay marriage will be the center of Bloomberg’s campaign, Catholic and Pentecostal ministers in the Bronx, like State Senator Ruben Diaz, have threatened to capitalize on the issue and withhold their support on Election Day. 

Ferrer has the added difficulty of appeasing Diaz while avoiding being linked to him by gay advocates. Ferrer affirmed his support for gay marriage when he was questioned about his allegiance to Senator Diaz by an employee of his former opponent, Mark Green, at the Greater Voices coalition of lesbian bisexual gay and transgender groups’ mayoral forum in early April. "Whether it's the extension of domestic partnership rights, or the rights of the transgendered--for me it fits into the same category.  You cannot believe in some human rights and not for all," answered Ferrer. Scott Jeffrey, founder of LEGALIZE, a gay marriage advocacy group, said Ferrer “handled the question very well." Ferrer's support of gay marriage had already earned him the support of the Village Independent Democrats, who endorsed him in February. However, Ferrer's views were less well-received by politicians in his native Bronx. Latino voters are trending more socially conservative, with 42 percent choosing President Bush in the last election, a seven percent increase from 2000. Some Latino religious leaders have recommended that Ferrer change his stance or play down his support for gay rights. "What we in the religious community tried to do is tell Freddy, 'listen, if you have to have this position, you don't need to let all your principles be known. 

Play it down,'" said Reverend Raymond Rivera who runs the Latino Pastoral Action Center in the Bronx. Diaz's spokesperson, Marcos Crespo, offered no comment regarding Diaz’s threats to withhold the support of Bronx Latino voters.  A former city councilman and an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Church, Senator Diaz has a history of anti-gay activism, filing a lawsuit against Harvey Milk High School, the gay public school, and criticizing educational curriculum that preached tolerance for homosexuality. Diaz showcased his own political muscle among his religious base for organizing last year's protest against gay marriage in the Bronx. Thousands gathered at the Bronx County Courthouse under a banner that read "No to Homosexual Marriage, Yes to George Bush's Constitutional Amendment."  Ferrer and Diaz have had an ambivalent relationship as Bronx politicians. Diaz condemned Ferrer for opening The Lavender Center, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, in the Bronx Borough President's Office.  Ferrer supported Diaz's candidacy for Senate in 2002, but has opposed his stance on some religious issues. "Ferrer criticized Diaz’s role in the city council education committee when he denounced a tolerance curriculum," said Andres Duque, Director of Mano a Mano, a center for Latino gay activism.

Diaz isn’t the only Bronx religious leader suggesting that gay marriage could be a divisive issue. "The churches are going to be looking at who supports same sex marriage, and it might divert the vote,â€? said Fernando Rodriguez, of the Bronx's One Way To Heaven Pentecostal Church.  “If one of the candidates who is coming for mayor says that they support this, then we cannot support him.â€?  While Rodriguez added that there are other important issues in the race, like education, he felt that his community would not stand for candidates who supported gay marriage.  The Latino vote may not be as monolithic as Diaz hopes.  Though he has often cited a 2004 Alliance For Marriage study claiming that 63 percent of United States Hispanics support an amendment making gay marriage illegal, a Daily News poll showed very different numbers.  Within the New York City Latino community, the poll found roughly equal numbers who support and oppose the constitutional amendment. Other successful Latino politician have voiced support of gay rights without alienating their base.  Congressman Jose Serrano has represented the Bronx in Washington D.C. for 15 years.  Last summer, he voted against the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. "The Congressman believes that the community cares a lot more about economic issues of housing and justice than they do about gay marriage," said his spokesperson, Ben Allen. He added that Serrano has received no backlash in the Bronx for his gay marriage vote. "Politicians like Diaz who try to use wedge issues to divide the community are grossly irresponsible," Allen added. Political theorists suggest that while religion may play an important role in national elections, local races depend more on personal relationships with candidates and ethnic pride.  John H. Mollenkopf, professor of political science at the City University of New York and author of the book Dual City:
Restructuring New York, a study of urban politics, doesn’t believe the pro-Gay rights stance will hurt Ferrer] because he is “the only Latino candidate in recent history with a shot at becoming mayor and the fact that he understands the issues facing Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and other Latinos will align that vote solidly behind him.â€? Reverend Rivera, referring to the threat presented by Senator Diaz, noted: “Diaz doesn't have the power…And if he does try to wield the power on Election Day, it will be war.  There is ethnic pride, and the fact that Ferrer could be the first Latino mayor of New York City will help him prevail."

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