Marriage bill dying in NY State Senate

by on February 9, 2009  •  In Marriage

New York's dysfunctional state legislature is at it – or rather not at it – again. Like so many progressive bills, the legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry is mired in the State Senate. Looks like it may take knocking out more conservatives in the 2010 election before this one is going to move. Unless, of course, rumors of its death turn out to be premature.  Stay tuned – there's never any shortage of drama in Albany.

From the Sunday NY Times:

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith said on Saturday night that he did not believe legislation to legalize marriage between same-sex couples had enough support to become law in New York this year. Mr. Smith said that while he and his fellow Democrats were committed to legalizing marriage between gay and lesbian couples, there were not yet enough votes in the State Senate to pass a bill. Although the State Assembly has passed such legislation, and Gov. David A. Paterson is a strong supporter of gay rights, the Senate has been an obstacle to allowing same-sex marriages in New York.

Speaking in Manhattan at a fund-raiser for the Human Rights Campaign, Mr. Smith said, “Although we do not have the number of votes at this time needed to pass the marriage equality gender bill this legislative session, we are committed to pursuing its passage. And the question is not if; the question is when. So our work still needs to happen for it to happen this year. But I’m going to need your help, and I’m going to need your prayers.” It did not come as a surprise that Senate Democrats were having difficulty gathering enough votes to pass the measure, but Mr. Smith’s comments were noteworthy for their bluntness.

More In Monday's Times, as hope – and spin – spring eternal:

Expectations that the Senate would act this year have run high. To secure their victory in November, Senate Democrats relied on hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from supporters of gay and lesbian rights across the country. A gay marriage bill, which passed the Assembly in 2007 and has the backing of Gov. David A. Paterson, was among the issues that Democrats were expected to press once they took the majority.

“I haven’t given up hope that it’s going to happen,” said Senator Thomas K. Duane, a Manhattan Democrat. “We’re still counting votes and lobbying. I’d say the situation is very fluid.”

There is an active push under way in the Legislature to tally votes and lobby lawmakers to vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Organizers of these efforts, like the Empire State Pride Agenda, said they remain cautiously optimistic that a bill can pass this year.

“I think we are closer than most people think,” said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride group. Mr. Van Capelle said he viewed Mr. Smith’s remarks as a way to “manage expectations” of those who expected a quick victory. He added: “I think it’s a good wake-up call for the L.G.B.T. community to understand that it’s not the majority leader’s job to get the votes. It’s our job.”

Gay and lesbian rights advocates said they could envision different circumstances under which same-sex marriage would be legalized before the end of the year. One way would be if any Republican lawmakers, who have 30 Senate seats compared with the Democrats’ 32 seats, retire, thereby forcing a special election.

Another possible outcome is that Democrats who say they would not vote for the bill are persuaded to change their minds. Democrats say they believe there are about five Democratic senators who oppose a law. In an interview, Mr. Smith, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, said he was hopeful that some of his colleagues would change their minds. “I’m working hard to get the votes,” he said.


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