Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Both Sides in New York Seek Gay Marriage Momentum -

Both Sides in New York Seek Gay Marriage Momentum -



ALBANY — A marriage license is just a Metro-North ride to Connecticut away for same-sex couples in New York City. For those who live in the Hudson Valley, it is a short drive over the state line into Massachusetts.

Gay New Yorkers who live in the far northern reaches of the state can head to Canada for a wedding. And Tuesday’s move by the Vermont State Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage has given them another nearby destination.

Advocates for same-sex marriage in New York and New Jersey said the action in Vermont was one more reminder that now, more than ever before, is the time for the states to grant full marital rights for gay and lesbian couples.

But the changes face a number of obstacles, and the advocates acknowledge that it could be months, if not longer, before the changes come.

On Wednesday, as both sides moved to seize the momentum, Gov. David A. Paterson vowed to introduce a bill that would legalize gay marriage. He told an Ithaca radio station that he was inclined to push the bill forward even if it was unclear that the measure had enough votes to pass, a maneuver that rarely occurs in Albany. “We’ll put a bill out and let the people decide one way or the other,” he said. “Why can’t people just debate the bills, vote on it, and it goes up or down?”

Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the group leading the effort to lobby New York legislators to legalize same-sex marriage, said the Vermont decision would provide leverage for a more assertive approach in Albany.

“We’re going to hold the legislature accountable,” he said. “The gay community is raising the bar on what we expect from our friends. Our friends are no longer going to be able to say they’re going to support the bill. They’re going to have to say they’ll work to bring the bill to the floor so it will pass.”

The National Organization for Marriage, a group that has fought efforts to broaden definitions of marriage to include homosexual couples, held news conferences at state capitols in Trenton and Providence, R.I., on Wednesday to announce the beginning of a $1.5 million national advertising campaign.

The first television commercial, with people describing same-sex marriage as a threat to their personal and religious freedoms against a backdrop of dark clouds and bolts of lightening, began appearing on Wednesday.

“This is just the beginning,” said Brian Brown, executive director of the organization, who insisted that the momentum was building in favor of those who oppose same-sex marriage. “We just won in California. We won in the state where everybody else said we couldn’t win, and we were told that this was inevitable there. Well, that was wrong. It was wrong there, and it’s wrong when you apply it to Vermont.”

New York and New Jersey are both closer to legalizing same-sex marriage than they were a year ago, but it still could be some time before either state acts. In New York the issue will likely turn on a handful of Republican votes in the Senate. (The Assembly has already passed a gay marriage bill by a comfortable margin.)

When Democrats gained narrow control of the Senate this year, same-sex marriage advocates were heartened. But one Democratic senator, Ruben Diaz Jr., a Pentecostal minister from the Bronx, has been outspoken in his opposition to allowing gay couples to wed, while some other Democrats have been noncommittal.

No Senate Republicans have yet agreed to support a same-sex marriage bill, but many Democrats are optimistic that they will change.

“People do surprise you,” said Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, who represents Manhattan.

Mr. Van Capelle would not say whether he had commitments from any Republican senators to vote for the bill. Still, he added, “I have been very encouraged by the conversations that I’ve had with Republicans, and I believe there are Republicans who are supportive of this in the State Senate.”

In New Jersey, same-sex marriage legislation was not considered a priority for a long time for many politicians because the state already allows civil unions. That started to turn late last year when a state commission issued a report finding that the rights gay and lesbian couples are given under New Jersey’s civil unions law were inadequate.

Advocates there do not expect the Legislature to act until after the November elections.

“In New Jersey, like in other states, big issues often get handled after an election,” said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, a gay rights group. Mr. Goldstein added that he did not think Vermont’s decision would do much to affect the timetable for same-sex marriage in New Jersey, but that because the Vermont Legislature had overridden the governor’s veto, that could help him and other gay advocates make their case to lawmakers.

“I believe Vermont’s action will now begin a period when we see states no longer looking at civil unions as an option and go directly to marriage equality,” he said, noting that Vermont’s action was of particular significance because it had been the first state to enact civil unions for same-sex couples.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey has said he will sign a bill allowing gay couples to marry, but a spokesman said Wednesday that the economy was “priority No. 1, 2 and 3.” .

Other same-sex marriage supporters stress that each state has its own political landscape, and that lawmakers are more prone to focus on the political temperature in their own states, rather than looking to what neighboring states are doing.

“It’s chicken soup,” said Micah Z. Kellner, an assemblyman who represents Manhattan and supports same-sex marriage. “It definitely doesn’t hurt but it may not help.”

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