ALBANY - (AP) - Conflicting interestsand political maneuvering threatened to stall a vote in New York onwhether to legalize gay marriage, viewed by advocates and opponentsalike as a pivotal moment in the years-long debate.
The Republican leader of the state Senate, which controls thefate of the measure, emerged from yet another closed-door meetingThursday morning with no plan to bring the issue to a vote. DeanSkelos, a Long Island Republican, gave the brief update aftermeeting with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a supporter ofsame-sex marriage.
Another Republican, Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn, said thecollapse of a deal to extend New York City rent control regulationslate Wednesday night was linked to the slowdown in discussions overgay marriage. Golden said he still expects the marriage bill tocome to a vote, but that may not happen this week. It had beenexpected as early as Thursday.
Bloomberg, a major financial backer of the Senate Republicans,declined immediate comment after meeting with the senators for anhour.
The legalization of gay marriage in New York now falls squarelyon the shoulders of Republican state senators under intensepolitical pressure from the important Conservative Party andinternal polling that shows growing, but not necessarily majority,support for same-sex marriage.
They know that not just the national gay marriage movement, buttheir own careers, may hinge on their vote.
But before that vote can happen, the Republicans will return toa closed-door caucus to decide whether to send Gov. Andrew Cuomo'sbill to the Senate floor. The vote on the bill appears to be a tie,with at least two Republicans saying they are undecided.
Approval of the measure late Wednesday night by the Democrat-ledAssembly only compounded the political pressure as nationaladvocates camp out in Albany for the vote they hope will put thegay marriage campaign back on track in other states. Thelegislative session is scheduled to end Monday.
"The vote by the state Assembly has moved New York one stepcloser to making marriage equality a reality," Cuomo said afterthe 9:15 p.m. vote. "I applaud these legislators' prompt andcourageous support on this measure, which will finally allowsame-sex couples the freedom to marry and provide them withhundreds of rights that others take for granted."
It was the third time the Assembly dominated by New York CityDemocrats passed a gay marriage bill in recent years.
"I was discriminated against as a woman, a Jew, and as alesbian ... and it was equally wrong in all instances," saidAssemblywoman Deborah Glick of Manhattan.
She said she and her partner have been denied numerous legalrights, and that it has been emotionally painful, while alsocosting her tens of thousands of dollars because they weren'tlegally married.
Several Republicans and some Democrats said their religiousconvictions prohibit them from supporting gay marriage.
"What we are doing today is not right," said AssemblywomanNancy Calhoun, a Republican representing Orange and Rocklandcounties. "We are changing the institution of marriage ... this isa day I will remember as a day when the state of New York and itsconstitution lost something, and I'm very sorry that is about tohappen."
"If you want to believe in a book and that God tells you whatto think, knock yourself out," said Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell,the bill's sponsor in the Assembly and brother of entertainer RosieO'Donnell. "But do not throw that book in my face."
"This is about equality," he said, noting some of hiscolleagues had been married "two or three times" while he can't.
While the Assembly passed the bill by a closer than expected80-63 margin, it was some solace to advocates who had hoped for aquick approval. Cuomo had sent a "message of necessity" orderthat would have allowed the Assembly and Senate to pass the billinto law as early as Wednesday, rather than waiting three days forpublic review.
In the Senate, Republican senators wouldn't say much about theirdiscussion in a four-hour meeting behind closed doors on Wednesday.But those who did said their concerns about protecting religiousgroups through so-called "carve-outs" haven't been satisfied.
"The carve-outs were minimal and there is still a real need forserious, comprehensive religious carve-outs," said Republican Sen.Greg Ball, who represents Dutchess, Putnam and Westchestercounties.
Cuomo's bill already protects clergy and religious groups fromhaving to participate in gay marriages. But Ball's proposedexceptions would also protect individuals, businesses and nonprofitgroups opposed to gay marriage from being charged withdiscrimination for refusing to provide their property or servicesto be used in a same-sex wedding.
"No one wants to be in the position where we shut down Catholicadoption agencies or religious organizations and the governor hasgot to, in my opinion, pay real attention to that possibility,"Ball said.
No such negotiations appear under way.
The bill is similar to the one defeated in 2009 in an effort ledby Senate Republicans and some Democrats, dealing a blow to thenational legalization movement.
"I think one of the hallmark principles of our country isrespect for faiths, for religion in this country," said Rep. Sen.Andrew Lanza of Staten Island. "I think there are issuesoutstanding in this legislation with respect to that issue."
An unofficial head count leaves the issue at a 31-31 tie in theSenate, where Republicans have a 32-30 majority. Republican Sen.Roy McDonald of Saratoga and Rensselaer counties and James Alesi ofMonroe County said this week they would support gay marriage, aftervoting against it in 2009.
Twenty-nine of 30 Democratic senators also committed to themeasure and at least two Republican senators - Stephen Saland ofPoughkeepsie and Mark Grisanti of Erie and Niagara counties - saythey are undecided.
A tie in the 62-seat Senate would be a defeat, and someadvocates, including Cuomo, have said they don't want the measurebrought to the floor only to see it lose again. Democrats, however,could test the power of the lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy ofRochester, to break a tie. But that rule is vague, saying it canonly be used for "procedural" votes, and would likely bechallenged in the courts.
Veteran GOP Sen. Hugh Farley of Schenectady County opposes gaymarriage but says the caucus meeting is open to senators supportingthe bill.
"I have to do what I think is right, and they have to do whatthey think is right," Farley said after the unusually lengthycaucus Wednesday.
"It's going to be a tight one, it's going to be close," saidthe Rev. Duane Motley, a leader of a conservative Christian group,New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, lobbying against same-sexmarriage.
NY Assembly passes gay marriage bill