No one knows better how hard it was to pass the Gay Marriage bill in Albany than Irish American New York State Assembly member Danny O’Donnell.
Rosie O’Donnell’s brother was the champion of the bill and before the massive crowds turned out on Gay Pride day to celebrate its passage he spent many lonely hours plotting a way forward for legislation that often seemed hopeless.
“When I stood in the back of the senate chamber and heard the Governor say do we have a message from the Assembly and heard them say yes we do, we have passed Mr. O’Donnell’s bill relating to the right to get married I couldn’t believe it,” O’Donnell told the Irish Voice. “I took a big swallow and exhaled because I couldn’t really believe it, it was almost surreal. To hear my name announced in the senate and to hear that passed was incredible.”
O’Donnell, 50, who is the brother of chat show queen Rosie O’Donnell, and his partner John have been together for 31 years this October. “I met John when we were freshmen at Catholic University of America when I was 17 and he was 18,” O’Donnell explains. “Somehow someway we managed to fall in love and we’ve been together ever since.”
On Sunday, just two days after the bill passed, O’Donnell was astonished by the roars of approval from the crowds along the parade route. “The pride parade was euphoria beyond description. When I first walked into the chamber in 2003 I had no idea that this would have been in the arc of what was possible.”
Asked how the passing of the bill will play out in his own life, O’Donnell admits he is still getting over the surprise of its success. “When the whirlwind slows down he and I will sit down and try to figure that out. Personally speaking we will get married. When is not really clear yet. We’ll probably get married in Colombia County, which is where we have a place where I stay when Albany is in session. We didn’t want to jinx anything so we did nothing but decide where it will be held.”
O’Donnell, the acknowledged champion of the bill in Albany, knew for about a month if it was put to the floor he had the votes. “One of the things I found intriguing is that two of the Republican voters are both lawyers and if you listen to what they said it was a legal argument. What is the basis in law to deprive a marriage license to gay people, they asked? And they couldn’t come up with one.”
But individually canvassing each senate member in Albany ultimately tilted the votes, O’Donnell believes. “I made this case one on one to my colleagues. I actually said to them so you’re going to vote against me? That’s a hard thing in this game. One of my Irish American colleagues in the Assembly told me he would happily come to my wedding – and I asked him well how will you come to a wedding that you don’t think I’m entitled to have? In the end he voted yes five times.”
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This weekend O’Donnell says he feels fortunate enough to realize that in his career he’s played a part in history. As for the next step, challenging the Defense of Marriage Act at the federal level, O’Donnell says he believes it’s a battle that will soon be won. “I firmly believe it will be declared unconstitutional. I would say by the end of 2013 it will be gone,” he says firmly.
O’Donnell’s win in Albany this week elevates his profile among Democrats and progressives and he welcomes it for a good reason. “Maybe next time when I go to Ireland and check into hotels they won’t think I’m the singer. When I went there last time they would always burst out laughing. You’re Daniel O’Donnell they said? “Can I see your passport? Are you going to sing for me?” It was an interesting month of my life being in Ireland and being called Daniel O’Donnell.”
The only major consideration now before his eventual marriage, O’Donnell admits, is not whether it will be legal but whether or not there the mothers will have the first dance. “When we do get to throw this party because we are getting married Leonie Dold from County Clare is the woman who will do the first dance with me. She was the woman who lived across the street from me, who raised me after my mother’s death and if we’re going to do dances with mothers that dance is going to be with the Irish woman who immigrated here as a teenager.”