N.Y. Senate Leader Sees Progress on Religious Exemptions

BY Julie Bolcer

June 22 2011 2:25 PM ET

New York state senate majority leader Dean Skelos said Wednesday that his conference and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have moved closer to agreement on exemptions for religious organizations, an issue standing in the way of a vote on the marriage equality bill.

Skelos emerged in the afternoon from a meeting with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in Albany, where the three leaders discussed agreements on other big-ticket items including rent regulations and a property tax cap. The marriage equality bill is expected to be the last item of business before the session adjourns, likely today or tomorrow.

Silver, whose Democratic-controlled chamber passed the marriage equality bill for the fourth time last week, said he had seen a copy of the draft amendments for religious exemptions and called it acceptable. He said he believed the legislature could conclude all business by tonight.

Skelos, on the other hand, allowed that proceedings could go into Thursday, but he added that his conference and the governor had made progress on the amendments to protect religious organizations in the marriage equality bill, according to Capitol Confidential. The senate majority leader has said that his conference would not decide whether to vote on the bill until the amendment language is finalized.

“My colleagues and [the governor's] counsel’s office are looking very closely at religious protections and I think they will conclude that,” said Skelos. “Once we have final legislation we’ll discuss it in conference,” he said.

Neither legislative leader discussed the content of the amendments. Cuomo did not emerge to address reporters.

The leaders and the governor held their meeting on the second floor of the state capitol building as advocates for and against marriage equality continued to swarm the upper floors. By the afternoon, the loud singing outside the senate majority conference room from the bill’s opponents, most affiliated with religious groups, had ceased. Celebrity chef Mario Batalio and actress Audra McDonald also visited Albany to express their support for the marriage equality bill.

Near the senate chamber, Senator Tom Duane, the openly gay sponsor of the marriage equality bill, described his outlook as “optimistic, but not confident yet.” One more vote, which must come from a Republican senator, is needed to pass the bill, should the Republican conference decide to bring the measure to a vote in the coming hours.

In the meantime, the efforts that have brought the bill within vote of passage in the state senate are ongoing.

”We continue to work hard in the field all around the state and we expect to have a vote on marriage equality soon,” said Brian Ellner, senior strategist in New York for the Human Rights Campaign, one of the five organizations in the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition.

















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