SONDA vote set in New York

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 17 2002 12:00 AM ET

This week's expected vote on a New York State bill outlawing discrimination against gay men and lesbians could be the most dramatic sign yet of the moderating politics of the Republicans who control the state senate. Tuesday's scheduled consideration of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act also fulfills a political promise Republicans made to the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state's most influential gay and lesbian advocacy group. The organization endorsed Republican governor George Pataki for a third term in November after the senate's Republican leader, Joseph Bruno, announced that he'd bring the antidiscrimination bill up for a vote.

Pataki has promised to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. The upcoming vote is something of a rarity in the 61-member senate, where Republicans almost never bring measures to the floor without having enough votes among themselves to pass them. Republicans will almost certainly need at least a handful of Democratic votes to pass the antidiscrimination bill, however, because the most conservative GOP members will not vote for it. Republicans control the senate by a 36-25 margin, and 31 votes are needed for passage of bills.

While Democrats have long favored the antidiscrimination legislation, the issue has been complicated during the past few years by sentiment among many within the gay community that transgendered people should be included in the measure. "I think it would have been more prudent to include everybody in this bill," said state senator Thomas Duane, a Manhattan Democrat and the senate's only openly gay member. "I am going to still fight to see if I can't get transgender inclusion in the bill."

The Democrat-controlled state assembly has for years passed bills banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace, housing, and public service, only to see the measures die in the senate. If the senate approves the measure this week, it would become one more example of movement to the center--if not the left of center--by the chamber's Republican majority. Also in the past few years, the senate has passed legislation toughening penalties for bias crimes motivated by a victim's race, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics; requiring background checks on those purchasing firearms; and approving the widest expansion of casino gambling in the state's history.