Will Rudy Giuliani turn anti-gay marriage crusader?

The former New York City mayor, who might be gearing up to run for governor, hints at what one of his big issues could be.

Published April 20, 2009 6:35PM (EDT)

Rudy Giuliani was badly beaten in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but now he may be pondering a comeback. New York. Gov David Paterson looks very, very vulnerable right now, and Giuliani hasn't ruled out running for the job. In an interview he gave for Monday's New York Post, Giuliani seemed to hint that, if he did run, same-sex marriage would be one of his big issues.

Paterson has introduced a bill in the state legislature that would, if passed, legalize same-sex marriage. In the interview, Giuliani came out very strongly against that idea, and said that it could galvanize New York Republicans in 2010. "This will create a grass-roots movement. This is the kind of issue that, in many ways, is somewhat beyond politics," the former New York City mayor told Post reporter Fred Dicker. "I think gay marriage will obviously be an issue for any Republican next year because Republicans are either in favor of the position I'm in favor of, civil unions, or in many cases Republicans don't even favor civil unions."

On Monday morning, however, Giuliani appeared to back off from what he'd said earlier, going on Dicker's radio show and saying, "I don’t get the sense that this is the key thing that people are thinking about right now -- I think the economy overshadows everything." He added that same-sex marriage "will be something that Republicans don’t have to use -- this is something that will bring a lot of people to the Republican Party because it’s such a basic challenge to what people believe is the way society should be organized."

Coming from Giuliani, that makes much more sense. Clearly, he seems to think that if he does run for governor, and same-sex marriage is still an issue in the state, then it'll be good for turning out the GOP base. But he isn't the kind of person who can focus his campaign on it, and he'd even have to be careful about how hard his surrogates push on the issue, and how they approach it. An overly-direct attack would open the subject of Giuliani's own family life up for discussion, and since he's on his third marriage and is reportedly estranged from his children, that is one debate he wouldn't want to have. 

Besides, as his failed campaign for the Republican nomination showed, Giuliani just doesn't make a very convincing social conservative, especially on this issue. It's just too hard to believe he truly cares that much about it, or that he's even that strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. Among other reasons to believe this, take the Post's companion piece to the interview with him; the paper talked to a gay couple he roomed with during his very-public separation from his second wife. One of them, Howard Koeppel, told the Post Giuliani has previously said that if same-sex marriage were to become legal in New York, "he would marry us himself."

As for Giuliani's belief that this would be a political winner, well, that's debatable. True, one recent poll put support for same-sex marriage at only 41 percent in New York state, but that's when respondents were offered civil unions as another option. By contrast, in a Siena College poll released Monday, 53 percent of respondents said they favor Paterson's bill to legalize same-sex marriage, while only 39 percent opposed it.

At least one recent poll showed the former mayor easily defeating Paterson. But if, as widely expected, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo jumps in the race for the Democratic nomination and wins, Giuliani would trail him.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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