It’s not unusual or all that surprising when the leader of the most Democratic county in the state announces his support for gay marriage.
But when that person is the son of one of the loudest voices opposing same-sex marriage in New York, and when he’s one of the top Latino elected officials in the city and state, it carries a little more weight.
Last week, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. — who himself voted against a same-sex marriage bill as a member of the state Assembly in 2007 — announced his support for marriage equality. His father, state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., has gained name recognition statewide for his adamant stance against gay marriage. When a marriage equality bill passed the Senate last year, the elder Diaz was the only Democrat to vote no.
Standing near Broadway in Kingsbridge after announcing his endorsement for City Council candidate Andrew Cohen, Mr. Diaz talked with The Press about his decision to announce. He downplayed the whole “Diaz versus Diaz” political theater and said he is not against his father.
“We’ve talked about this for many, many years, but it wasn’t about my dad. I didn’t get permission from him,” he said. “This is about me thinking about it, knowing, experiencing, feeling the love from same sex couples in my family, same sex couples who are close to me, who are friends who are confidants.”
Mr. Diaz said his decision was based on two people who are close to him, his niece Erica Diaz and his chief-of-staff Paul Del Duca. Ms. Diaz has rallied in favor of same-sex marriage against her grandfather, Ruben Diaz Sr. After marriage equality was legalized last year, the younger Diaz stood witness at Mr. Del Duca’s marriage to his longtime partner Damion Townsend.
“So just like other elected officials and other people are evolving and thinking and revaluating and assessing this issue because of family members, that’s what happened to me,” Mr. Diaz said.
He said the “time has come” for him to announce his support for gay marriage and the timing was based on the Supreme Court’s consideration of the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage.
He said he also wanted to state his position while running for re-election unopposed, with a healthy war chest, so that nobody can say he did it for political gain.
“I just wanted to do it in a way where you saw it for what it was, and that’s how I’ve evolved as an individual. I’m not trying to do this to get ahead with politics,” he said.
When asked what kind of an impact he hoped to have from the announcement, Mr. Diaz was realistic.
“Look, if I can convince more and more people to reassess their stance if they were against it, that’s great. I don’t know how much of an impact I can have on the Supreme Court,” he said, laughing. “I don’t have Sonia Sotamayor’s cell phone number!”
Former leaders of the Bronx Pride Center, Riverdalian Demetrius McCord and Dirk McCall, said Mr. Diaz’s announcement could have an impact on city and state politics in years to come.
Mr. McCall, currently the director of communications for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, described Mr. Diaz as one of the “rising stars in the Democratic Party” who would likely run for city or statewide political office someday. He said this announcement sends a message to the younger political generation that supporting gay marriage is the way to go.
“I think it’s a signal that this is the appropriate position to have, the new normal,” Mr. McCall said.
Mr. McCord, who serves on the executive team of the Bronx Pride Coalition, said Mr. Diaz has been supportive of gay and lesbian groups in the Bronx for years. Mr. Diaz even lends space at his office for the Bronx Pride Coalition to meet.
“The reality is Ruben Diaz for the past few years has been supporting the Bronx LGBT community anyway. So this just makes it more public,” he said.
“It was good that he took the plunge,” Mr. McCall said.