By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Gannett News Service
ALBANY _ Gov. David Paterson said Wednesday he plans to re-introduce legislation to make same-sex marriages legal in New York.
The legislation is expected to mirror a gay-marriage bill introduced in 2007 by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who -- with Paterson as his running mate -- campaigned in 2006 on a platform that included marriage equality.
"We'll put a bill out and let the people decide one way or the other," Paterson said Wednesday morning on WHCU-AM (870) in Ithaca.
But even with legislation from Paterson, the state Legislature has not signaled the bill would pass both houses. In 2007, the state Assembly passed Spitzer's marriage bill, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate and remains that way now under Democratic control.
Paterson has been an outspoken supporter of marriage equality for same-sex couples and has indicated he would sign legislation to make it law. His legislation is expected to be submitted in advance of a major lobbying day in Albany by gay-rights groups on April 28.
The Democratic governor said he hopes the measure makes it to the Senate floor for a vote, even though he said he's not sure it would pass.
"Why can't a bill just be on the floor and lose?" he said, adding "if you have the votes later on to pass it, bring it back."
New York continues to debate same-sex marriages even as Vermont and Iowa legalized it in the past week.
Now with the Senate in Democratic hands, gay-rights groups are more optimistic of the bill's passage this year.
With a program bill from Paterson, "it's just another level of support that we anticipate and glad to have," Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.
But the Senate still appears a few votes shy from having the 32 votes needed for passage.
"Senator (Malcolm) Smith has been and continues to be a supporter of marriage equality," said Austin Shafran, spokesman for Smith, the Senate majority leader.
"Currently, there are not sufficient votes in the Senate to pass the marriage equality bill, which was passed by the Assembly last year. However, Senator Smith has said in the past that it will pass as soon as the votes can be secured, and he is committed to continuing that process."
Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, D-Manhattan, who is gay and sponsored Spitzer's bill in 2007, said he expects Paterson's program bill will help push the agenda before the legislative session ends in June.
"I'm expecting that he will soon send us a bill so we can go back and try to replicate the work that we did in 2007," he said.
A Quinnipiac University poll this week found that given three choices, 41 percent of New Yorkers say gay couples should be allowed to marry legally, while 33 percent say they should be allowed to form civil unions.
New York has been moving toward recognizing gay couples. In 2007, the Civil Service Department began providing health insurance to same-sex couples married out of state who are public employees.
And last May, Gov. David Paterson signed a directive to recognize gay marriage performed in other states.
Later this year, two cases are expected to be heard by the state Court of Appeals, the state highest court, in regards to recognizing out-of-state, same-sex marriages. One is a Westchester County case from 2006 in which Executive Andrew Spano began recognizing gay couples legally married in other states.
Gannett News Service