Back on June 24, New York's long struggle over legalizing same-sex marriage was decided once and for all by the governor and State Legislature. Buffalo Republican Mark Grisanti joined in the "yes" votes, and the matter seemed to have ended.
But it didn't.
The senator, praised in some quarters and vilified in others, is discovering the consequences of his vote. They are both good and bad for his re-election prospects.
In October, Grisanti and three other Republicans who voted for the bill traveled down to New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg feted them for what he called the courage of their convictions. Grisanti returned with receipts totaling well into six figures from gay groups and individuals now calling him an official friend.
As far as Grisanti's re-election was concerned, the New York fund-raiser worked out quite nicely.
The rookie senator has not forgotten, however, that he pulled off the political upset of 2010 by defeating Democratic incumbent Antoine Thompson. Grisanti also realizes he needs every advantage possible. His district will remain heavily Democratic no matter how reapportionment determines its boundaries, and it occupies the bull's-eye of the Senate Democrats' target list.
Now he must deal with the fallout from a Niagara Falls rumble he acknowledges he wishes hadn't happened. But the consequences of the same-sex marriage vote stack up as what really matters here.
Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo delivered that message a few days ago when the party denied him its line -- the same line that provided the margin of victory in 2010. Lorigo said Grisanti broke his promise not to vote for the measure, even though he had left open the possibility of Conservative backing after the vote. That prompted the nod for Chuck Swanick, a Democrat and former chairman of the County Legislature. "The worst problem he has is the question about his integrity," Lorigo said, referring to Grisanti's promise not to vote for the marriage bill.
But the vote also unleashed powerful political forces that Lorigo could not ignore. Dr. Kevin Backus, pastor of Bible Presbyterian Church on Grand Island and Grand Island Conservative chairman, had more than hinted that a registered Conservative might very well challenge Grisanti in a primary.
And the Rev. Jason McGuire, head of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and a major force in the pro-traditional marriage movement, said he joined the effort to persuade Lorigo. McGuire emphasized it follows the warning his forces issued to Senate Republicans last year.
"We said in an open letter to [Senate Majority Leader] Dean Skelos and the entire majority, that this would result in a bitter war with social conservatives," he said. "We're seeing that come to pass."
And, oh yes, a national group called the National Organization for Marriage said last week that a year after Grisanti solicited and accepted a $4,000 contribution, it has given a $5,000 donation to the Swanick campaign. Observers close to the scene say there's a lot more where that came from.
About the best Grisanti (who pronounces his name Gri-zon-tee) could do last week was counter with backing from the far less influential Independence Party, whose state chairman came up from Suffolk County to express support for "Sen. Gri-zon-tay."
With his vote, the senator has interjected himself into one of the major social debates of our time. As a result, watch for lots of money from gay groups and lots of money from conservative groups to meet on an Erie County battlefield. McGuire may have summed it up best: "We've awakened a sleeping giant here."