NY State legislative session winds down and heats up

by on June 8, 2009  •  In Marriage

Maybe somewhere there is a state legislature more dysfunctional than New York's, but I doubt it. New Yorkers practically cry in gratitude when a budget is adopted or meaningful legislation enacted.  New York, in other words, has the Mississippi of state legislatures.

This year, one of the bills which might or might not be enacted is one legalizing gay marriage. The Assembly starting passing gay marriage bills several years ago, but they always died in the Republican-controlled Senate.  Last November, with the help of a wave of gay dollars from around the country, the Dems won a one-vote majority in the Senate. 

No one, however, knows whether the new Senate leadership can stitch together a majority, given that some Dems have announced their opposition. Nate Silver, whose reputation was built on predicting political outcomes by focusing on data analysis, delved into the numbers relevant to the New York marriage debate, and he concluded that … he couldn't tell – the bill probably has about a 50-50 chance.

By contrast, openly gay State Senator Tom Duane said in a speech on June 1 that he has the votes to pass the marriage bill. Here is Paul Schindler's (Gay City News) latest take:

Despite Duane's confidence about the marriage vote, his majority leader in the Senate, Democrat Malcolm Smith of Queens, continues to state publicly that the votes are not yet there and he will only bring up the measure when he is confident of a floor victory. …

When asked to explain the difference between his estimation of the marriage vote count and Smith's, Duane insisted that it is not at all uncommon for a bill sponsor, engaged in many conversations with colleagues, to have a different understanding than the leader, whose discussions on any one issue are more general and who is horse-trading on a broad range of issues. …

[In an interview, Assembly Speaker Sheldon] Silver brought up a possibility that has haunted gay advocates since the November election — the rumor that Smith pledged to Democrat Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Pentecostal minister implacably opposed to marriage equality, that the bill would not get a vote in exchange for Diaz's support for Smith securing the majority leader's post. Asked whether he put any credence in that rumor, Silver responded, "I really can't tell you. I never spoke to Senator Smith…."

Several weeks ago, Duane, who has repeatedly said he has won the support of several GOP senators, announced that a Republican was ready to go public with his stance, though that has not yet happened.

With the Democrats holding only 32 seats in the 62-member Senate, Duane, Paterson, and advocates such as the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) have long acknowledged that some Republican votes are needed for passage. Like Duane, ESPA has spoken optimistically about the ability to put GOP votes in the marriage equality column, and that effort was made easier when Minority Leader Dean Skelos said his members would be allowed to take a conscience vote and not be held to a standard Republican position. ..


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