A step toward gay vows?

Thomas K. Duane

May 13, 2009

Times Union: A step toward gay vows?

Some Assembly GOP backing could offer cover to Senate Republicans

By RICK KARLIN, Capitol bureau

May 13, 2009

ALBANY — The Democratic-led Assembly passed a bill Tuesday allowing same-sex marriage, marking the second time in two years the measure has passed in the lower house.

While the bill was expected to be approved, supporters will point to the larger margin of victory, 89-52, compared with the 85-61 vote in 2007, as a sign the measure could pass in the Senate this year. The GOP backing in the Assembly may provide some political cover to shift enough Republican votes in the Senate to send a same-sex marriage bill to Gov. David Paterson's desk.

"I'm entitled to the same paper you have," Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, an openly gay lawmaker who championed the bill said, referring to the marriage certificate he needs in order to wed his longtime partner. He said he's been engaged for 28 years.

"I believe this is wrong," countered Republican Michael Fitzpatrick of Smithtown, Suffolk County.

Until this year, Republicans who controlled the Senate refused to bring gay marriage to a vote.

But now, with the Senate in Democratic hands by a 32-30-seat margin, gay rights proponents have renewed their push.

There are complications. Senate Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has repeatedly said he won't bring the measure to the floor until he's sure he has the 32 votes needed for passage. The votes, he's added, aren't yet apparent.

But Tom Duane, the Manhattan Democrat leading the gay marriage push in the Senate, said he's sure there will be enough votes, including some from Republican lawmakers.

With Assembly passage, Duane said "the logjam will be over."

"There will be some 'me-tooism,' " Duane added.

Gay rights supporters plan to use what one insider described as a strategy of giving "cover and encouragement," or assuring senators who are on the fence that it's OK for them to support the measure now that Republicans in the Assembly have done so.

Republican votes will be needed because several Democrats, including Ruben Diaz Sr. and Shirley Huntley, have come out against same-sex marriage.

Proponents starting today will be pointing to Assembly members like North Country Republican Janet Duprey, who voted "no" in 2007, but supported the bill this year, as proof that it's safe to support same-sex marriage.

She changed her stance after studying the issue and realizing that people like the lesbian couple in her neighborhood should be able to wed if they want to.

"I have firmly come to the conclusion that all people regardless of their sexual orientation should be treated equally," Duprey said.

"It's important to be able to change your vote," added Democrat Sandra Galef, of Ossining, who also is supporting the measure this year for this first time.

Duprey's senator is Republican Betty Little of Queensbury, while Galef's is Republican Vincent Liebell of Patterson.

"Change takes time," added Tim Gordon, a Bethlehem Independent, who like Democrat Bob Reilly of Colonie voted yes after opposing the bill in 2007.

Also voting yes was Long Island Republican Fred Thiele, who was a co-sponsor this year after voting "no" in 2007. That prior vote, he said amounted to "taking the path of least resistance at the time." Thiele's senator is Republican Kenneth Lavalle.

As well as the vote tally, other aspects of the same-sex marriage debate have changed since 2007.

Five other states have passed gay marriage laws and proponents continue to describe it in civil rights terms while opponents say it would force others to accept a political re-definition of wedlock.

In New York, the Empire State Pride Agenda, as well as groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, have stepped up efforts since 2007.

Last month, ESPA brought more than 1,000 people to the Capitol to lobby for same sex marriage, compared with about 400 the year before. They've also gotten help from organized labor, which provided buses for the trip.

Gay rights supporters have flexed their financial muscle, as well, with high-profile donors like software entrepreneur Tim Gill giving $130,000 to Senate Democrats last year.

They've run polls in GOP Senate districts and they hired the Patricia Lynch lobbying firm, one of the biggest in Albany.

On the other side are opponents like Diaz Sr., the Democratic senator, who has made his opposition to same-sex marriage the cornerstone of his tenure, and Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. "The real battle will be in the Senate," McGuire said.

Diaz is leading a demonstration against gay marriage on Sunday in front of Gov. David Paterson's New York City office. The governor has said that passage of a gay marriage bill is one of his priorities this year.

Rick Karlin can be reached at (518) 454-5758 or rkarlin@timesunion.com

Capitol Region votes

Yes: McEneny, Gordon, Reilly, Canestrari

No: Tedisco, Jordan, Amedore