Friday, February 27, 2009

Advocates hopeful for gay marriage law in N.Y. | | The Journal News

Advocates hopeful for gay marriage law in N.Y. | | The Journal News

Advocates hopeful for gay marriage law in N.Y.

Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau

Gay rights advocates say they are increasingly optimistic that same-sex marriages will become law in New York. They just can't say when.

The stumbling block continues to be the state Senate, where gay rights leaders say they are still a few votes shy of being able to pass it in the chamber.

But supporters hold out hope that it could be passed this year after lawmakers reach agreement on a 2009-10 state budget, which is required to be passed by April 1.

The general optimism is fueled by Democrats' taking control of the chamber in January, which was aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars from gay and lesbian supporters last year.

"An election of the Democratic majority in the Senate was not a guarantee that marriage equality would be law in 2009," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "It was the starting line, not the finish line."

In 2007, the state Civil Service Department began providing health insurance to same-sex couples married out of state and employed in state and some local governments.

And in May, Gov. David Paterson signed a directive to recognize gay marriage performed in other states, which gave same-sex couples 1,324 rights in New York that were previously afforded only to heterosexual couples.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, seemed to dampen the hopes of gay marriage supporters earlier this month when he suggested in a speech to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, that the measure would be hard pressed to pass this year.

But Smith has since not ruled out that possibility, saying he simply doesn't have the votes yet within the conference to pass it.

"Members are still deliberating on it. Some members might change their position," said Smith, who supports gay marriage.

But Van Capelle said Republican support will be needed. He said the group points out that the four Republican Assembly members who voted for the measure - including Joel Miller of Poughkeepsie and Mike Spano of Yonkers, who has since joined the Democratic Party - were not hurt at the polls when they ran for re-election.

Democrats hold a 32-30 seat majority in the Senate, and aides estimate support for gay marriage rests in the high 20s. So some Democrats would still need convincing, while at least one, Sen. Ruben Diaz, D-Bronx, has vowed to never support gay marriage.

But some groups opposed to same-sex marriage said it's unlikely the bill will make it to the floor this year.

"If they brought it up and it was defeated it would be a set back," said Duane Motley of Spencerport, Monroe County, the executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

Sen. Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, the Senate's first openly gay member, said he hasn't given up on the goal of a vote this year.

"I believe we have more votes than people think. I think we're in much better shape than people really think," he said.

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