The New York Times
N.Y. / Region
Fate of Same-Sex
Marriage Bill in Albany Unclear
By DANNY HAKIM and
JEREMY W. PETERS
From nytimes.com on
the Web, November 9, 2009
After a major setback in Maine last
week, gay rights advocates and their opponents are shifting their focus to New
York, where Gov. David A. Paterson has called legislators to Albany on Tuesday
and asked them to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
Advocates on both sides of the issue lobbied senators over the weekend, but it
was still unclear on Sunday whether the measure could attract the 32 votes
needed in the State Senate for approval. (The Assembly has already passed
Only three state legislatures nationwide have voted, without the intervention of
the courts, to approve same-sex marriage.
In New York, Democrats hold a shaky 32-to-30 majority in the Senate, and some
senators oppose allowing the legislation to come to the floor for a vote.
Those who favor the bill say they realize they are risking another significant
defeat but are determined to get legislators on record on the issue. They
also say that now may be the best time to push lawmakers to take up the bill,
given that next year all 212 members of the Legislature will face re-election.
Estimates vary, but supporters of the bill believe they can count on about 25
votes for the legislation at this time.
“The stakes are much higher now, following Maine, and it would be an enormous
boost to the movement to prevail in New York,” said Matt Foreman, a gay rights
advocate who has served as the head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
and the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s leading gay rights group.
But, he added, “if we don’t win marriage in New York in this special session,
it’s going to be a very hard lift next year.”
Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, one of the Legislature’s few openly gay members
and the bill’s lead sponsor in the Assembly, acknowledged the uncertainty, but
said he supported taking a vote now. “We will never be assured in the
State Senate — waiting for that is like waiting for Godot,” he said.
Mr. Paterson declined a request for an interview.
The Maine referendum, in which voters reversed lawmakers’ earlier approval of
same-sex marriage, was not the only cause for concern for supporters of the
During the bitter fight for the 23rd Congressional District in upstate New York
in recent weeks, state conservatives pressured the Republican candidate to
withdraw in part because of her support of same-sex marriage. And Gov. Jon
S. Corzine’s defeat in New Jersey has complicated efforts to legalize same-sex
Opponents of the measure in New York expressed confidence that they would
“I think we’re starting from a position of strength,” said Jason J. McGuire,
executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. “I don’t
believe they have the votes, and it’s an act of desperation. Our position
is to maintain the votes we have, and people are certainly in contact with our
senators and we are encouraging that. This is not going to pass.”
Republican officials said Senator Dean G. Skelos, the leader of the Republican
caucus, would allow his colleagues to vote however they wanted and would not
seek a unified position. But none of the 30 Republicans have yet to commit
publicly to voting for same-sex marriage, and the bill’s supporters say that
Republican votes are needed for the measure to pass.
Democrats were to meet in a closed-door caucus on Monday in Albany to decide how
“There is a school of thought which says that unless you have 32 votes, you
shouldn’t pull a bill on the floor,” Pedro Espada Jr., the Senate majority
leader, said in an interview on Saturday. “There’s also an equally valid
school of thought that says we should put it up for a vote and live with the
Mr. Espada, a supporter of the measure, said he and a number of other Senate
Democrats, including the caucus leader, John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, had been
discussing strategy while attending a conference of Latino lawmakers in Puerto
Rico this weekend.
Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister and Bronx Democrat who is the
most outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage in the Legislature, said last week
that the issue should be voted on during an election year.
If the bill comes up now, he said, “the Democratic conference would be more
divided than ever.”
Senator Diane J. Savino, a Democrat from Staten Island who supports the bill,
said she believed there was a 70 percent chance it would reach the floor.
“I’m pretty confident,” she said, adding, “I hope that I am right.”