Friday, November 13, 2009

Guessing game in New York - Washington Blade: Gay and Lesbian News, Entertainment, Politics and Opinion

Guessing game in New York - Washington Blade: Gay and Lesbian News, Entertainment, Politics and Opinion

Nov. 13, 2009

New York’s governor and state Senate leaders announced this week they’re committed to a vote on same-sex marriage legislation by the end of this year.

Gov. David Paterson (D) announced the agreement at a press conference Tuesday while flanked by champions of the marriage bill, according to media reports.

“This is the first time that the Senate leadership had indicated that it will support a vote on marriage equality,” Paterson said, according to the New York Daily News.

Austin Shafran, a spokesperson for the Senate Democrats, didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment, but reportedly confirmed for the Daily News an agreement had been made with Senate leaders on the marriage bill.

“We will commit the full spectrum of our energies to making marriage equality a reality in the State of New York,” Shafran was quoted as saying.

Gay state Sen. Tom Duane, a gay lawmaker and prime sponsor of the marriage bill in the Senate, said Paterson and Senate leaders reached a decision to bring the marriage bill to the floor this year “under the leadership of Gov. Paterson, who brought everyone together — the LGBT political organizations, myself, my colleagues in the Senate majority.”

Approval in the Senate is the last major obstacle in passing same-sex marriage legislation in New York. In May, the New York Assembly passed legislation that would grant marriage rights to gay couples, 89-52. Paterson has pledged to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

The governor has placed the marriage bill on the Senate’s agenda for Monday and Tuesday for an extraordinary session of the Senate, which must also consider legislation that would address the state’s $3.2 billion budget deficit. But the Senate is not required to vote on items the governor puts on the agenda. It was unclear at Blade deadline whether the Senate would take up the marriage bill next week.

Duane said “nothing is ever for certain” in Albany with regard to whether or not the Senate would take up the legislation next week, but added he’s pushing to bring it to the floor at “every opportunity, every time that we’re together, and we’ll be together again on Monday.”

“I do know that the governor is putting it on the agenda, and, again, that shows his leadership on the issue,” Duane said.

Whether there are sufficient votes in the Senate to pass the marriage bill also was unclear. Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate, 32-30, and about five Democrats have said they are non-committal or would vote against the bill, according to a report in the New York Times, making Republican votes necessary for passage.

Jeff Cook, a Log Cabin Republicans legislative adviser who has been lobbying GOP senators on the marriage bill, said he couldn’t speak to whether senators would take up the measure next week, but noted he believes the measure will pass this year with Republican votes.

“I believe that when this finally comes up for a vote that it will pass with bipartisan support,” he said. “I am confident that there will be Republican support.”

Duane said he’s “feeling very, very optimistic” about there being enough votes in the Senate to approve the marriage bill.

Asked whether there would be stronger chance for passing the bill later in the year as opposed to next week, Duane replied, “I guess the answer would be who knows, but I’m very optimistic about the bill today.”

But Dan Pinello, a gay government professor at the City University of New York, said he’s “not optimistic” about there being sufficient votes to pass the marriage bill.

“I don’t think the votes are there, quite frankly, but I think it’s important, nonetheless, that the vote be taken because that way people are on the record, and next year, which is the election cycle, they can be held accountable for the votes,” he said.

Pinello said the New York State Legislature “is run by these dinosaurs,” and a vote on the marriage bill — even it fails — would get opponents of same-sex marriage on the record so issue advocates know who to target in the 2010 election.

Paterson was reportedly joined at the press conference by Duane and Alan Van Capelle, Empire State Pride Agenda’s executive director. Key members of the Senate were absent, including Democratic Leader John Sampson, President Malcolm Smith and Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr.

But Paterson said at the press conference that Senate leaders “will stand behind this commitment” and their lack of presence at the event didn’t mean they weren’t standing by the agreement, the Daily News reported.

“I think that those three leaders would not like to get into the conversation about dates and times,” Paterson was quoted as saying. “They’ve made the commitment. They have not had a chance to meet with their membership as yet, and usually these types of commitments come after meeting the membership.”

The commitment for a Senate vote this year comes after supporters of same-sex marriage had a false start on hopes that the chamber would take up the measure this week. Lawmakers failed to take up the measure Tuesday at the start of the session, even though Paterson put the bill on the agenda.

The Senate began its session at around noon Tuesday, and lawmakers discussed appreciation for U.S. veterans in recognition of Veteran’s Day, then put the chamber in recess. The Daily News reported Senate Democrats went into discussion about the marriage bill in a members-only conference and engaged in “very passionate” debate.

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