Real Estate 20 Under 40

Politics of the heart

2007-07-23T00:00:00Z Politics of the heartMAURY THOMPSON
thompson@poststar.com
Glens Falls Post-Star
July 23, 2007 12:00 am  • 

WILLSBORO - As a gay man, Glenn Sayward feels he has the best of everything.

He knows how to change a distributor cap or an alternator on a car, and yet his partner does not mind sitting with him through a two hour fashion show.

But because New York does not recognize their marriage as legal, he cannot enroll his partner on his health insurance policy.

So Ben, his partner, works a full-time job to pay for health insurance when he could be doing other more meaningful things.

"It would be really nice," Sayward said. "He would be able to take care of my grandfather. That (is something) somebody needs to do."

Glenn's homosexuality is common knowledge in Willsboro, a town of 1,903 people in northern Essex County.

Glenn, the son of state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, flies a gay pride flag in the front yard of his house.

The painted brick colonial on the bank of the Boquet River has been in the family since around the time of the American Revolution, except for a period of about 10 years.

More than 200 people from the town attended Glenn and Ben's

wedding in their backyard - a gala event in August 2004 with a Greek theme presided over by a local minister.

Guests wore togas and Greek gowns.

Co-owner with his sister of The Village Meat Market, Glenn Sayward volunteers at the local high school as a class adviser.

Last year, Glenn and Ben were chaperones on the senior class trip to Cancun, Mexico.

"My son and his partner have stood up for babies when they were baptized in our little town," said Assemblywoman Sayward.

Basically, the assemblywoman said, they are treated as any other couple.

"To all of my other children and my grandchildren, it's just Uncle Glenn and Uncle Ben. That's just how it is," she said.

Last month, the family's story gained statewide notoriety when the assemblywoman told it in an emotional appeal just before the Assembly voted on a bill to legalize gay marriage.

The bill passed the Assembly, but did not pass the Senate.

The assemblywoman views the issue as one of civil rights.

A marriage license entitles a couple to 27 different rights, such as access to health insurance and retirement benefits and the right to make decisions about health care and property.

The state and some other employers allow domestic partners to be covered under health insurance policies, but the employee has to pay tax on the value of the domestic partner's premiums.

"They call it imputed income," the assemblywoman said.

A nephew who works for the state, she said, pays $210 per month in federal and state taxes, based on the value of his domestic partner's benefits.

Gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, Glenn Sayward said, yet the state won't recognize the relationship as a marriage.

"They scream morality and stuff like that," he said. "Well if two gay men can adopt a child, it would be nice if they can give a child one name or something like that."

The assemblywoman has grappled with the issue for years.

"And I knew - I knew that my little boy when he went off to kindergarten was not the same as the other little boys," she said.

Asked how she knew, Sayward said it was simply a mother's instinct.

The son, in a separate interview, said, "Something was different in kindergarten, and not really knowing and growing up and sort of just figuring things out on my own."

In the summer after 11th grade, he told his friends he was gay, and they accepted it, Glenn Sayward said.

The mother accepted it when she read books and magazine articles that linked homosexuality with genetics.

That acceptance came after the son graduated high school and enrolled in college.

"He'd come home and we'd cry and we'd talk and we'd cry and we'd talk," she said. "So we were going to change and he was going to pray and I was going to pray. So I read all the books that the priest gave me and we were going to do great things, but it doesn't work."

Ultimately she came to a realization.

"And that really was when it started working, when I told him you have to be who you are," she said. "And he no longer needed to experiment with drugs or anything else because he was feeling better, or at least about himself."

Glenn Sayward said he has a rich life in many ways.

He manages the market and has a side line in catering, making enough money to collect Adirondack art.

His yard is full of flowers and plants of virtually every variety.

Gardening is his way of relieving stress, he said.

He was a foster parent to three teenage boys, one of whom he raised from age 12 on.

"I've got one that has graduated college and another with one year left, and I can't wait for grandkids," he said.

Glenn Sayward said he was proud his mother spoke in support of the gay marriage bill.

"It wasn't until the third (newspaper) article came out that I had people start coming in the store and say, 'Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know you had it that tough growing up,' " he laughed. "And I was like, 'No it's alright. It really is. What can I get ya?' "

In hindsight, he said, growing up gay wasn't that much different from other children and adolescents who did not fit in.

"I got picked on because I was gay, you know. My ears were too big. The kid that sat next to me was too fat," he said. "Kids are cruel, you know. That's just the way it is."

The assemblywoman has taken some political heat for taking a position on gay marriage.

The Conservative party likely will not endorse her for re-election because of her stance on gay marriage, said sate Conservative Chairman Michael Long.

"I don't see how we in the Conservative party can move ahead with any candidate

who supports that issue," he said.

Local party leaders will decide whether to endorse someone other than Sayward in 2008 or go without a candidate on the party's ballot line, he said.

Several letters to the editor of The Post-Star in recent weeks suggested she may face opposition from within the Republican party next year.

Sayward was one of only four Republicans in the Assembly who voted in favor of the gay marriage bill.

Republican leaders said while they disagree with Sayward's stance on gay marriage, she has been a tireless advocate for property tax reform and economic development.

"For all the good she's done, I give her a pass on that," said Warren County Republican Chairman Michael Grasso.

"The public wants someone who stands up for what they believe in," said Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady.

"This issue was a personal issue for Teresa," he said. "I disagree with her on this one."

Assemblywoman Sayward said the majority of calls and letters to her office since the vote have been favorable.

"If you talk to anybody under 30 years old, it's no big deal," she said.

Although the gay marriage bill passed the Assembly, it is not expected same sex couples will be lining up to get marriage licenses in New York any time soon.

In order to become law, a bill must be passed by both houses of the legislature and then signed by the governor.

If, or when, there may be enough support in the Republican controlled state Senate to pass a gay marriage bill is hard to tell, the assemblywoman said.

Perhaps, she said, there would be support if the terminology in the proposed law is changed from marriage to civil unions.

"I think that's the biggest hang up people have," she said.

"It better be only a year or we're going to have to move to Vermont," Glenn Sayward said, letting out a big belly laugh.

Turning serious, he said the Assembly passing the legislation was a victory.

"It's a start," he said. "And I may not be around to see it. I hope I am."

The assemblywoman said she raised awareness by taking a public position on the issue.

"And ironically, I have been to a couple of functions where I had a father come up to me and say, 'I've never really been able to really talk about my daughter and the fact she is a lesbian.' And he said, 'You know, I feel ashamed of myself and I'm going to be advocating for her.' "

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