N.Y. Leader Wants Gay Senator to Carry Marriage Bill

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com February 10 2011 11:25 AM ET

New York senate majority leader Dean Skelos said he thinks his chamber is likely to vote on the marriage equality bill by June, and that he would let Sen. Thomas K. Duane, the chamber's only out member, carry the measure.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went a step beyond previous remarks and said he wanted to see lawmakers take the marriage equality bill up “this session,” which ends in June. The Democratic-controlled assembly has passed the measure numerous times, but how the bill would proceed in a Republican-controlled senate, where no member of the majority party supports the measure, has remained a key question.

Skelos provided an answer Thursday morning in comments to reporters after a breakfast forum sponsored by Crain’s New York Business in Midtown Manhattan. The majority leader said he anticipated a program bill from Governor Cuomo that he would give to Duane, a gay Democrat.

“We would get a program bill and I would give it to Tom Duane,” he said. “Normally, it would go to a majority member, but Tom has been the sponsor of that bill and I would offer it to him.”

Senator Duane, who sponsored the marriage equality bill that failed in the senate by a 38-24 vote in 2009, was unavailable for comment, but his office provided The Advocate with a statement. Last month he said he planned to introduce new legislation “within weeks.”

"Sen. Duane is pleased to hear about Sen. Skelos’s comments," it said. "With strong support and partnership with Gov. Cuomo, Sen. Duane continues to work with all members of the state senate to make marriage a reality in New York state."

A leading marriage equality advocate also welcomed the remarks from Skelos.

“I think it’s an affirmative development from Senator Skelos,” said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. “He is showing bipartisanship and a confirmation that he does not want to block this important issue.”

Although Governor Cuomo has not publicly stated that he will introduce a program bill, it would come as no surprise. That was the strategy used by the two previous Democratic administrations of David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer.

During the forum, Skelos said he had not discussed the marriage equality bill with his Republican conference yet, but he said he believed a vote would happen this session, pending the approval of his conference. He repeated his campaign pledge not to block the measure from coming to a vote.

“At some point we will conference it and make a decision as to whether it will come out for a vote. I personally don’t have a problem with it coming out for a vote but that will be the decision of the conference,” he said.

However, should the bill make it to the senate floor again, insiders maintain that it still needs Republican support to garner the required 32 votes. Currently, 26 senators, all Democrats, support the bill in the closely divided chamber.

This week senators heard from hundreds of marriage equality advocates in Albany, including out New York City council speaker Christine Quinn, who paid a visit to Senator Skelos Monday. Apparently, the lobbying has yet to change his mind, as he confirmed Thursday that he remains opposed to the bill.