ALBANY - The Democrats attacking Mayor Bloomberg on the gay marriage issue seem to have a blind spot when it comes to members of their own party.
Former Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and others are loudly faulting Bloomberg for appealing the decision of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan, who ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in New York. But they stayed quiet as Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the Democrats' rising star, fought and defeated three similar lawsuits in upstate courtrooms.
Spitzer says he personally favors letting same-sex couples wed, but feels obliged as an elected official to enforce the law as written and traditionally interpreted. Sound familiar? It should, because that's exactly the position the Republican mayor is taking.
In fact, when the Bloomberg administration refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples - including the five who successfully sued - it was following orders from the attorney general. Last February, after the mayor of New Paltz presided at 25 gay weddings, Spitzer issued an advisory opinion warning other local officials not to do the same thing.
So why is Miller expressing disappointment with Bloomberg but not Spitzer? Why is Ferrer calling Bloomberg's position "incredibly opportunistic" while giving Spitzer a pass? Maybe it's because they're running against Bloomberg for mayor and can't afford to cross a popular attorney general.
The double standard extends to other top Democrats. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer both oppose full marriage rights for gays. As a congressman in 1996, Schumer voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which authorizes states not to recognize same-sex unions from other jurisdictions, and Clinton supported her husband's decision to sign it. That puts them well to the right of Bloomberg, but they aren't taking any brickbats from Freddy or Giff.
And Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver - a Democrat who could push legislation to change the state's marriage law if he wanted to - has managed to avoid taking any position on the issue at all. Talk about having it both ways.
The bottom line is Bloomberg and Spitzer are both doing the right thing. They have a sworn responsibility to enforce the law as it is, not as gay rights groups or ambitious politicians would like it to be. Although the state and city bar associations argue that New York's Domestic Relations Law is ambiguous enough to permit same-sex marriages, a majority of judges who have looked at the question so far disagree.
Bloomberg and Spitzer both want the Court of Appeals to make the final call, and they're doing their part to make that happen.
Yes, tossing the hot potato back to the courts puts the issue on hold for months, possibly until after the mayoral election in November. But if Bloomberg were only thinking of his political future, he could drop his appeal, throw open the doors of City Hall to gay couples and become a hero to the liberal voters that dominate New York City. Then he would just have to spend his millions fending off challengers in the Republican primary. If he could do that, no Democratic challenger would stand a chance.