When I passed marriage equality, I went down in the polls. … When we started with marriage equality, the majority of the people in this state were against it. It wasn’t even close. I’ll bet you it was 70 percent opposition, because the case of first impression always gets the most opposition.”
— Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D-N.Y.), in remarks to reporters, June 11, 2018
We couldn’t find any polls in which Cuomo’s approval or favorable rating suffered from his signing of the Marriage Equality Act.
In two reputable polls tracking New York politics (Quinnipiac University and Siena College), Cuomo’s numbers actually went up in the months after he signed the bill. Pollsters said Cuomo was buoyed by his response to a pair of tropical storms in late summer 2011.
In the Quinnipiac poll, Cuomo had 56 percent approval and 15 percent disapproval in February 2011. By June 1, weeks before he signed the same-sex marriage bill, his net approval rating had risen to 61-18. Days after signing the bill, Cuomo inched up to 64-19 in a June 29 poll.
The Marriage Equality Act took effect in July 2011. In the next Quinnipiac poll, taken Aug. 10, Cuomo’s numbers had declined to 62-22. But the drop was largely inside the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, and in the following months, after the storm surges, Cuomo’s approval rating bounced back up to 66-17 in September, 65-19 in October and 68-17 in December.
Cuomo was one of the first governors to sign same-sex marriage legislation. But that was seven years ago, and time seems to have blurred his memory of the details.
‘When we started with marriage equality, the majority of the people in this state were against it.’
Cuomo said he would bet “it was 70 percent opposition,” but he should hold onto his money.
A range of polling indicates that a majority of New Yorkers supported same-sex marriage both before the governor took office and at the time he signed the bill.
By the time Cuomo took office in January 2011, that level of support had grown to 56 percent in the Quinnipiac poll. Shortly before Cuomo signed the bill, support was at 58 percent in a June 2 poll. Days after he signed it, support was at 54 percent in a June 28 poll.
‘First state to pass marriage equality’
This seems like a slip of the tongue. Cuomo’s staff sent us transcripts of 10 different speeches over the last two years in which the governor said New York was “the first big state” or “the first large state” to recognize same-sex marriage rights. Notice the qualifiers there.
Anyway, before New York got around to it, three other states had passed laws granting marriage rights to gay couples. Vermont’s law took effect in September 2009 and New Hampshire’s on the first day of 2010. Connecticut recognized gay-marriage rights through a 2008 court ruling that was codified in statute in 2009.
Although Iowa and Massachusetts had not “passed” laws, courts in those states extended marriage rights to gay couples years before New York took action. California’s top court also ruled for same-sex marriage in 2008, but its decision was thwarted months later by a ballot measure, Proposition 8, and the ensuing legal battle dragged on for years.
Cuomo signed the Marriage Equality Act on June 24, 2011, months after taking office. The bill passed 80 to 63 in the Democratic-controlled state Assembly and 33 to 29 in the Republican-controlled Senate, where it got four GOP votes.
The law’s passage gave momentum to the same-sex marriage campaign nationwide. The New York Times described it as an “unexpected victory” for gay rights supporters and Cuomo as their “clear champion.” When Democrats held the governorship and both chambers of the New York legislature in 2009, a same-sex marriage bill failed. But Cuomo got it through a Republican-held Senate in 2011. Four years later, after more states followed suit, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
Cuomo has plenty to brag about when it comes to gay rights. His successful push for same-sex marriage required tactical skill and political capital at a time when the nationwide movement was still trying to gain traction.
But it didn’t hurt his poll numbers, and he didn’t foist this bill on an unwilling electorate. Polls show that Cuomo’s numbers actually improved afterward and that a clear majority of New York voters supported same-sex marriage at the time.
In short, the governor’s story is compelling without embellishing the facts. He puffed them up for some reason, and he gets Three Pinocchios.