WXXI Local Stories
8:07 am
Tue May 12, 2009

Gay Marriage Bill Awaiting Senate Vote

Albany, New York – The New York State Assembly passed, by a vote of 89 to 52, a bill to make New York the sixth state to legalize gay marriage, but the measure remains stalled in the State Senate.

The Assembly for the second time has taken up the bill to legalize same sex marriages. The first was in 2007. Then, as now, it was approved with the backing of several Republicans.

Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of the gay and lesbian rights group Pride Agenda, says a lot has changed in the brief two years since the last vote.

"First of all, every member of the State Assembly who voted for it in 2007 got reelected with mostly larger margins," said Capelle, who says in the brief two year period, major labor unions now support gay marriage, as do over 500 clergy in New York. Five states, several of them bordering New York, have already legalized same sex marriages.

Capelle, and other supporters of allowing gay marriage in New York, hope the example of the Assembly's approval of the measure will help bring the legislation to a vote in the Senate, where it has continued to stagnate. Republicans, who led the Senate for decades, refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Now Democrats are in charge, but hold an extremely narrow 32 vote margin. At least one Democratic Senator, Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, is against gay marriage. Diaz, a Pentecostal minister, is organizing an anti gay marriage rally for Sunday. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith says he isn't prepared to bring the measure to the floor for debate, until he knows for sure that he has the votes.

"I'm not bringing the bill to the floor without having 32 votes," said Smith, who personally backs the measure.

Republicans, who are in the minority now in the Senate, with 30 seats, have so far refused to endorse the gay marriage bill, or any other major piece of legislation desired by Democrats, including the state budget. But many, including Governor David Paterson, a strong backer of gay marriage, believe that if the bill were to come to the floor for a vote, some GOP members would join with the Democrats and the bill would be approved.

Paterson had demanded that the Senate bring the bill to the floor, without counting the votes, but later backed away from that request.

The governor spoke at a recent lobbying day, where two thousand gay, lesbian, transgender and bi sexual New Yorkers and their allies lobbied Senators for the same sex marriage bill.

"I want to sign a bill," said Paterson, to loud cheers.

Van Capelle, with Pride Agenda, says there are still six weeks left in the legislative session. He agrees that if any bill has the power to break the partisan log jam in the Senate, it's the same sex marriage measure.

"If the Republicans decide not to vote as a block one time this year, this will be the issue," Capelle predicted.

Senate Leader Smith, who recently spent several weeks painstakingly putting together an MTA bail out package that all 32 members of his Democratic conference could support, says as soon as the votes are there for same sex marriage, he will act. But the Majority Leader can't predict whether that will happen by the end of this legislative session, or not.