New York State senator Greg Ball, an undecided Republican who asked his Twitter followers how he should vote on the marriage equality bill, said the feedback appears to be trending toward support of the measure, but he refuses to budge unless the bill includes stronger religious exemptions.
Ball, an Air Force veteran who advocated against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, posed the question to his Twitter followers Friday, saying, “Opening up the discussion! So, if you were me, how would you vote on gay marriage? Yes or No?”
On Monday, the Putnam County lawmaker said the feedback trended toward voting yes. A separate conversation continues to unfold on his Facebook page, in addition to the calls and other messages bombarding senators about the bill at the end of the legislative session.
“I haven’t looked at it, but it seems to be heading in a direction for marriage equality,” he said outside the Senate chamber in Albany.
However, Ball added that a large portion of the tweets appeared to come from people outside the state and the county, suggesting that those replies would be less persuasive than feedback from his upstate New York constituents.
The freshman senator, who voted against the marriage equality bill as an Aassembly member two years ago, wants religious exemptions that exceed what Gov. Andrew Cuomo included last week in the Marriage Equality Act. In accordance with the state’s existing laws, the bill, which the assembly passed last week, recognizes the right of churches to refuse to marry same-sex couples, and for religious institutions and other fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus to deny use of their private facilities for wedding celebrations.
Ball said Monday that his support still depended on stricter exemptions, for example, to protect church-affiliated agencies from regulatory enforcement actions and to protect individuals and businesses. His proposals would appear to be in conflict with the state’s human rights laws, and he was not among the three Republican senators who met with the governor on Monday to continue to negotiate the exemptions issue.
The exemptions under consideration between the governor’s office and the Senate Republican majority are said to be narrower in scope than what Ball has proposed. Cuomo met with senators Kemp Hannon, Andrew Lanza, and Stephen Saland about the issue, and Majority Leader Dean Skelos said Monday that the negotiations continue.
Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for the governor, referred to an earlier comment when asked about the Ball proposals.
“Senator Ball can decide to vote with the conservatives against the, bill but his characterization and description of the bill is just plain wrong,” he said last week. “Senator Ball is entitled to his own politics but not his own facts.”
Currently, 31 senators, including two Republicans, say they would vote yes for the marriage equality bill, which needs one more vote to pass. The Republican conference, which would need to supply the decisive vote, but likely more for political cover, has not decided whether to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, with some of the delay attributed to the religious exemptions issue.
Lawmakers appear likely to remain in session beyond Monday, the scheduled last day on the calendar. Ball shared his assessment that a vote on marriage equality, if one takes place, would not arrive soon.
"We'll be here all week," he said.