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They Do?

New York state may finally be on the verge of allowing same-sex marriage

by David King on June 16, 2011

On Wednesday, New York State Senate Republicans disappeared into their chambers to conference same-sex marriage. They emerged after four hours in chambers, having decided nothing. They expressed their intention to discuss bringing the bill to vote again in conference on Thursday. Two of their own members, Sens. James Alesi and Roy McDonald, announced on Tuesday that they support same-sex marriage and would vote for a bill should it come to the floor. Earlier in the day, three Democrats who had voted against same-sex marriage two years ago announced they had switched their position. That left 31 clear votes for same-sex marriage in the Senate—just one short of the needed 32.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo reacted by introducing a same-sex marriage program bill in both houses—something Cuomo said he would do earlier this year, but only if he was sure the bill had enough support to pass. There have been multiple reports that a number of publicly undecided Republicans have indicated they will vote for the bill.

“From the fight for women’s suffrage to the struggle for civil rights, New Yorkers have been on the right side of history,” said Cuomo in a statement. “But on the issue of marriage equality, our state has fallen behind. For too long, same-sex couples have been denied the freedom to marry, as well as hundreds of rights that other New Yorkers take for granted. Marriage Equality is a matter of fairness and legal security for thousands of families in this state; not of religion or culture. When it comes to fighting for what’s right, New Yorkers wrote the book, and Marriage Equality is the next chapter of our civil rights story.”

If standard legislative procedures were followed, a vote could come on the legislation Friday. But, at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s request, Cuomo issued a message of necessity Wedensday. As a result, the vote could take place immediately, and at press time, the Assembly was expected to vote on the bill Wedensday afternoon.

So what’s the hitch? Senate Republicans could block the bill from coming to the floor. They are facing tremendous pressure from religious groups, traditional-marriage supporters and even the Conservative Party, which has pledged to not endorse any legislator who votes for same-sex marriage. McDonald reacted rather bitterly to the pressure he was facing. “You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing,” McDonald told reporters.

“You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.”

While McDonald reacted to the pressure by deciding to vote for the measure, his party leaders could decide otherwise. McDonald represents a district that isn’t all die-hard conservative.

All that pressure could be why Republicans spent more than three hours behind closed doors deciding how to move forward on the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos promised repeatedly this year that he would bring the bill to a vote and allow his members to vote their consciences.

But, with passage of the bill becoming more of a reality, Skelos may decide it is more politically expedient to block a vote on the measure. Legislators are scheduled to be in session until this coming Monday, but Republicans have made it clear they want to be out of town by Friday. That isn’t much time for legislators to move on remaining business. As of publication, legislators had yet to come to a deal on a tax cap and to renew and strengthen New York City’s rent laws, and it isn’t clear whether independent redistricting will get any sort of consideration.

While Cuomo and the Legislature can claim major victories such as an on-time budget, an ethics bill, and possibly now the legalization of same-sex marriage, both houses have agreed on fewer bills up to this point in the year than they have in almost 15 years. A number of Senate Democrats have noted that Senate Republicans have not allowed substantive legislation to come to the floor. Senate Democrats have been blocked at every turn to have their voices heard. Democrats hope voters will notice the Senate Republican’s lack of action. If they block a vote on gay marriage, it would give Democrats a major platform for next year’s elections.