New York state senators passed a bill Tuesday that would outlaw discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the state, 31 years after advocates began lobbying for it. The 34-26 vote puts the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act a pen stroke away from becoming law. The state assembly approved the measure in January--as it has annually since 1993--and Gov. George Pataki said Tuesday, "I look forward to signing" the bill into law.
Pataki received an endorsement for reelection from the Empire State Pride Agenda, the largest gay and lesbian group in the state, after the Republican state senate said in October that it would take up the bias bill. SONDA would protect people from abuse, harassment, and discrimination based on their sexual orientation in employment, housing, education, and public services. It would become law 30 days after gaining the governor's signature, making New York the 13th state to prohibit antigay bias. "This lays the foundation for winning full equality under the law in areas such as taxation, protections for gay youth and transgendered people, and recognition of our families," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the ESPA. A proposed amendment to SONDA to add protections for transgendered people failed 19-41.
Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican, voted for the bill, as did 12 other Republicans. Twenty-one Democrats also voted yes. "The time has come to move on in our lives and put this behind us," Bruno said before the vote. "People can live their lives the way they see fit." Cheers and applause from bill advocates sitting in the senate gallery greeted the announcement of the final vote tally.
Usually bills that make it onto the floor are predestined to pass in the senate, where Republicans dominate 37-24 and the GOP controls the flow of legislation. The fate of SONDA, however, remained unclear until the voting began Tuesday. Foreman said he had doubts about its passage less than an hour before debate started. On Sunday, he counted only eight Republicans in support of it. He credited behind-the-scenes lobbying by Pataki and Bruno with swaying enough Republicans to win passage of the measure.