Marriage Equality Gridlock in New York
BY Julie Bolcer
June 17 2011 9:15 AM ET
New York Senate Republicans will meet Friday for the third day in a day row to discuss whether to vote on the marriage equality bill, which has remained one vote shy of passage since Tuesday.
The senators plan to meet in conference Friday morning as they deliberate whether to bring the marriage equality bill for a vote before the scheduled end of session this Monday. The bill currently has support from 31 senators, including two Republicans, putting it one vote shy of passage, with one more Republican senator needed to vote yes.
On Thursday, Republican senators emerged from their private meeting in Albany with no decision following a visit from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a major donor to the conference who also has contributed $350,000 to marriage equality advocates this session. In remarks afterward, the mayor said that based on his conversations with senators including John Flanagan, Mark Grisanti, and Andrew Lanza, all of whom he named, he believed the bill would pass with more than a “bare majority” if it comes to the floor for a vote, but he did not announce any new commitments.
Bloomberg indicated that the bill would pass with more than the required 32 votes, something insiders have suggested is needed to provide political cover and prevent any one Republican from being identified as the decisive vote. Political calculations run high for Republican senators, who hold a slight 32 to 30 majority heading into the 2012 elections. The Conservative Party of New York State, which endorses Republican candidates on its influential line, has vowed to withhold support from any lawmakers who vote for marriage equality, but a series of polls show that a majority of New York voters support the issue at historic cause by record margins.
Senators Lanza, Kemp Hannon, and Stephen Saland met Thursday evening with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, according to the Associated Press, in order to discuss issues including religious exemptions. The governor submitted the Marriage Equality Act on Tuesday, which the assembly passed Wednesday, specifying exemptions for religious institutions and clergy members that do not want to marry same-sex couples or allow their private facilities to be used for the purpose. While the language parallels that of the state’s existing human rights law, Republican senators seem to want stronger exemptions that may extend beyond what is constitutional.
One senator, Greg Ball, has expressed concerns about the denial of state funding to religious agencies that refuse to comply with the marriage equality law in services such as adoption and foster care. He also has raised concerns about challenges to the tax-exempt status of religious entities that refuse to allow their facilities to be used for same-sex wedding celebrations, as occurred with the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist organization in New Jersey.
Cuomo has indicated no willingness to negotiate in public statements, and the New York State Catholic Conference, which is lobbying hard against the bill along with conservative Jewish leaders, confirmed it would not support the measure under any circumstances.
“We will always oppose the bill even with stronger religious exemption language,” said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the Catholic Conference, in a note to The Advocate Thursday. “However, were the bill to pass, stronger language would prevent scenarios like we've seen in other states where Catholic ministries have had to shut down (Catholic Charities adoptions and foster care in Boston, DC, Illinois) or not-for-profit status was revoked (Ocean Grove Methodist Camp Association),” he wrote.
Thursday night at the annual New York City Council Pride celebration, Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who has lobbied for the bill numerous times in Albany, credited Cuomo's leadership for bringing New York to the “threshold of marriage equality passing.” She said a successful vote could take place “in the next couple of days, if not tomorrow.”
“This is finally our moment,” she said.
Quinn said that Cuomo was using “every power of his office” to secure the one vote needed from a Republican. In the final days of the session, which could be extended into next week beyond the Monday deadline, other items remain on the agenda, including a property tax cap and rent regulations.
“He was in meetings today, to get us over the hump, to get us the vote that we need,” said Quinn of the governor.
The speaker also credited the audience members including constituents of three Democratic state senators who voted no in 2009 but announced their support this week. The votes from Joseph Addabbo, Shirley Huntley, and Carl Kruger put every Democrat except for the avowedly antigay Ruben Díaz Sr. in the yes column and shifted the pressure to pass the bill to the Republicans.
“Make clear a note that when those 29 Democratic state senators stood up, they knew exactly how many telephone calls they had gotten,” said Quinn. “They knew exactly how how many emails. They knew how many letters.”
Senator Addabbo refused to reveal his personal position on marriage equality and said repeatedly that his vote depended on input from his constituents. He reportedly has received thousands of messages in support this year.
Republicans James Alesi and Roy McDonald followed the Democrats in announcing their support this week. The vote tally has stood at 31 since Tuesday.
Late Thursday, Lady Gaga tweeted to her nearly 11 million followers, asking them to call New York State senators and tell them to vote yes on the marriage equality bill. The pop star had been singled out this week during the Assembly debate when Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn lawmaker opposed to the marriage equality bill, held up her photo and criticized advocates for using celebrities to promote the legislation.
In her series of tweets, Gaga mentioned Senator Grisanti, an undecided Republican she had called out earlier this year at a concert in Buffalo.
“Today we are on the Edge of Glory and 1 vote away for marriage equality passing in New York State,” said one of the Gaga tweets with a reference to her new music video. “Go to www.newyorkersunitedformarriage.org,” she added.
Katy Perry also endorsed the move, tweeting “GO GAGA GO!”