If there was ever any doubt that gay people form one of Gov. David A. Paterson’s most loyal and enthusiastic constituencies, that doubt was erased on Sunday by the howl of a drag queen on Fifth Avenue.
The drag queen, standing at the foot of the steps to the New York Public Library dressed in a green Afro wig, a red miniskirt and candy-cane-striped stockings, had the duty of announcing the notables marching down Fifth Avenue in the gay pride march.
She introduced Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, and the onlookers who had gathered along the parade route politely applauded.
But when she bellowed, “Let’s hear it for the governor of New York, David Paterson!” the crowd roared.
“I predicted a hero’s welcome for him,” Ms. Quinn said. “And I think my expectations have been blown out of the water.”
Few governors have made advancing gay rights as central to their policy making as Mr. Paterson. Even liberal Democrats who have long advocated equal rights for gay men and lesbians, like Mr. Paterson’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, have not embraced the gay community so publicly.
In fact, those who walked down Fifth Avenue with Mr. Paterson on Sunday could not recall another serving governor’s ever marching in the city’s gay pride parade.
The most significant move Mr. Paterson has made toward broadening gay rights in New York was an order he issued in May that directed state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of New York.
That order built on the policies of the Spitzer administration, which had been planning to issue the same directive before Mr. Spitzer resigned in March. David Nocenti, who was Mr. Spitzer’s legal counsel and now holds that role in Mr. Paterson’s administration, drafted the order earlier this year. It was to be issued once the state’s highest court ruled on a February decision by an appeals court in Rochester that said the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, even though New York does not itself allow gays and lesbians to marry.
The Court of Appeals rejected the case on technical grounds on May 6, and the order went out to all state agencies on May 14.
Earlier this month, on behalf of several state Republican elected officials, a conservative Christian policy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., sued Mr. Paterson in State Supreme Court in the Bronx to block the governor’s order.
Before he marched in the parade on Sunday, Mr. Paterson defended his order and insisted that a lawsuit challenging it would fail.
“It is the law and it is the right thing to do. I stand by it,” he said. “If someone would like to go to court and waste their money and prove me wrong, they can do that. And I welcome that.”
Sunday was not the first time Mr. Paterson marched in a gay pride parade. He said he attended his first parade in 1976 at the urging of a gay friend and had walked in them on and off ever since.
“Back then, we would march in the back,” he said. “But then we learned that wasn’t cool because you couldn’t hear the music in the back. So we moved up.” He added that in those early years, he did not generate quite the same amount of attention from the crowd.
“I don’t think I’ll be anonymous today,” he said.
As he walked down Fifth Avenue from 52nd to 34th Street on Sunday afternoon, he could not go more than a few blocks without stopping to pose for a picture or accept hugs and expressions of gratitude from paradegoers.
“Thank you, Governor,” said Greg Sengle, 38, as he took one hand off the pole he was using to hold up a giant arch of rainbow-colored balloons and shook Mr. Paterson’s hand. As Mr. Paterson walked away, Mr. Sengle, a technology consultant, added: “I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.”
Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, a Democrat from the Upper West Side who has become a perennial presence at the parade, said he saw a new role emerging for Mr. Paterson: gay icon.
“The gay community has relied on our straight icons like Judy and Bette,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “And I think David could be one of our icons.”
Special Thanks to The New York Times