New York Senators Weighing Whether To Have Gay Marriage Vote

11:17 AM, Jun 24, 2011   |    comments
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ALBANY, NY - Senate Republicans adjourned late Thursday and didn't discuss whether to bring a vote to legalize same-sex marriage to the Senate floor.

Expectations grew throughout the day Thursday that the Republican-led Senate was moving closer to deciding whether to vote on the controversial issue.

But at about 11 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, announced that the Senate would adjourn for the night because legislation dealing with mandate relief for local governments wouldn't be available for hours. He said he didn't want to keep members in session through the night.

Senators said they would reconvene at 10:00 Friday morning and would likely discuss behind closed doors during the day whether to hold a vote on same-sex marriage.

Pressure continued to build at the Capitol on whether New York will become the sixth state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage. Protesters on both sides of the issue continued to fill the Senate hallways.

The bill is one vote shy of the 32 votes needed for passage in the Senate. Twenty-nine Democrats back the measure, as do two Republicans. The GOP holds a 32-30 seat majority in the chamber.

One who had been undecided announced late Thursday that he would vote against the bill. Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, Putnam County, said the language in the amendment -- which was negotiated by a small handful of his Republican colleagues -- wasn't strong enough for his liking.

Ball had voted against the measure in years past as a member of the Assembly, before he began his term in the Senate this year. He indicated that he believes the measure will likely pass, however.

"The bill still lacks many of the basic religious protections I thought were vital, and for this reason, and as I did in the Assembly, I will be voting 'no,'" Ball said in a statement.

The issue is being watched nationally.

In a speech to gay supporters in New York City on Thursday night, President Obama praised New York for having a debate over legalizing same-sex marriage but stopping short of endorsing the measure himself.

"Right now, I understand there's a little debate going on in New York about whether to join five other states and D.C. in allowing civil marriage for gay couples," Obama said.

"And I want to say under the leadership of Governor (Andrew) Cuomo, with the support of Democrats and Republicans, New York is doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do. There's a debate, there's deliberation about what it means here in New York to treat people fairly in the eyes of the law. That's the power of our democratic system."

The Democratic president has said he supports civil unions for gay couples, but has indicated that his stance is evolving.

"I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country," he said Thursday.        

Earlier in the day, Skelos said his conference would discuss the issue as a whole, as well as an amendment to the same-sex marriage bill that passed last week in the Assembly.

"This will be decided by the conference, when they're going to bring it out," he said after a closed-door meeting with Cuomo. "I expect it will be a lengthy conference, a thoughtful conference. Then we'll make a decision."

The amendment, which hasn't yet been made public, is designed to protect religious organizations and non-profits from a lawsuit if they refuse to recognize same-sex couples. Some Senate Republicans said they want greater protections for religious groups if they are to support the bill.

Some GOP senators continued to say they are undecided, including Sens. Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie and Mark Grisanti of Buffalo.

Sen. James Alesi, R-Perinton, Monroe County, said Thursday evening that he was confident the same-sex marriage bill would come to the Senate floor. Alesi and Sen. Roy McDonald of Saratoga are the only two GOP senators to back the bill.

"I respect the collective will of my conference. I have for the 17 years I've been in the Senate," Alesi said. "But I believe on an issue as important as this, to the Republican Party as well as the LGBT community, that I feel our conference has to bring this bill to the floor."

Asked if a vote will be held, he said, "Albany is not a place to make predictions as you know, but my sense is that it will."

And would it pass?

"It'll pass. It will definitely pass," he said.

Cuomo has indicated that the sides are close on reaching a deal to make same-sex marriage legal, but he said Wednesday that Republicans were still reviewing it.

"I think the entire conference is looking at this language and the whole conference wants to make sure that they feel confident that if it comes out and if it passes, that it protects religion," Cuomo told reporters.

"And as I've said before, I'm pro-marriage equality, I'm also pro-First Amendment. I'm pro-church-state separation and I'm pro-religious freedom, so I also have the same concern."

By JOSEPH SPECTOR, Gannett Albany Bureau

Gannett Albany /WGRZ

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