With the news this week that two of the three Republicans who backed marriage equality have won their hotly contested primaries, LGBT folks and our allies have reason to be glad, or at least relieved. If we are serious about building a nonpartisan alliance for equality in states across the country, then we have to be sure to support our friends when they support us.
It's also important for our community to hold accountable those who betray us, undermine us, and sell us out. And this year, if you're a gay New Yorker, there is one man who should be at the top of that list: State Senator Greg Ball.
For those of you not addicted to Albany political gossip, let me take you back to June 2011. Marriage equality had already passed the Assembly (the equivalent of the House), but its fate in the Senate hinged on eight Republicans who were on the fence. Senators Saland, McDonald, Grisanti, and Alesi eventually came over to the side of marriage equality. (Saland and Grisanti were the ones who just won their primaries; Alesi didn't run, and McDonald was defeated.) Three senators confirmed their "no" votes amid heavy lobbying on all sides.
And then there was Greg Ball. Ball held out until the 11th hour, garnering national television coverage, and meeting with politicians and activists behind closed doors. What he did behind those doors was outrageous: He made a series of absurd demands and promised he'd vote "yes" if those demands were met. Among the most ridiculous? He asked one noted New York lesbian politician to "get Dick Cheney to support me in the next election." As if she had Cheney's home phone number. As if Cheney would campaign on behalf of a state senator, in any case. As if that was in any way a principled request.
But wait, it gets worse. After Senator Ball finally voted "no," he had the gall to issue a statement saying that he was never undecided in the first place. "Knowing that marriage equality was likely to pass," Ball wrote, "I thought it important to force the issue of religious protections. Over the past few weeks, I've had the distinct opportunity [sic] of listening to literally thousands of residents, on both sides of this issue, by holding an undecided stance... Now that the final text is public, I am proud that I have secured some strong protections for religious institutions and basic protections for religious organizations. The bill still lacks many of the basic religious protections I thought were vital, and for this reason, and as I did in the Assembly, I will be voting 'no.'"
There are so many slimy statements in there that it's hard to know where to begin. First, Ball admitted that he was merely "holding an undecided stance." Other senators were sincerely undecided, but Ball was just assuming the position. Second, Ball admitted that he did this to "force the issue of religious protections." Not only is that disingenuous -- saying, in effect, "Give me what I want, but I'm still voting against you" -- but it's also not true. Senator Saland, in contrast, really did lobby for religious exemptions, Governor Cuomo and the Democratic leadership worked out the issues with him, and Saland eventually voted "yes." That's legislative process. Ball is just full of hot air.
And what were Ball's demands? Not to drown in the details here, but they were obviously outrageous. They included a demand that individuals be allowed to simply disregard the marriage law if they proffered a religious reason to do so. That's not democracy; it's anarchy, and Ball knew all along that it could never become law. At the time I went into all the details of Ball's demands here on HuffPost, back when I thought they were sincere.
What Greg Ball did was play us. All of us who care about this issue, whose lives are affected by it -- he just used us for publicity and attention. (Incidentally, I was following Ball's Twitter feed throughout June. While marriage was being debated, he tweeted about protections for household pets.) It's one thing to have a principled view against same-sex marriage. We may disagree with that view, but at least it's a principled stand. Ball was just playing games. At a time when personal reflection was called for, Ball chose opportunism.
Oh, and then there's Greg Ball himself. As if his betrayal weren't enough, he's also earned the name "Greg Slimeball" for a reason. An ex-girlfriend who had to get a restraining order against him. Persistent complaints about sexual harassment in Ball's office. A cavalcade of dirty campaign tricks, from calling his opponents names to sending letters under fake names to local newspapers. Fishy dealings with a Ball-managed nonprofit that appears to have funneled money to Ball's political campaign. And really, just check the guy out on YouTube; the man has an anger-management problem that puts Jack Nicholson to shame. Even if it weren't for his cowardly two-step on one of the most important civil-rights issues of our time, Ball's deep, deep character flaws should render him unfit for office.
Ball's opponent, meanwhile, is a moderate Democrat named Justin Wagner. He's straight but not narrow, a lawyer who's lived in the district for years, and he has made fighting against the "war on women" a central plank of his campaign platform.
There are many political causes vying for our philanthropic dollars this year, but I want to urge the members of my LGBT community to remember our friends -- and hold our enemies accountable. Greg Ball cynically manipulated our community leaders and exploited our civil-rights struggle for his personal aggrandizement. He tried to keep us out of City Hall. Now we should throw him out of office.