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New York governor
submits same-sex marriage bill to legislature

New York governor
submits same-sex marriage bill to legislature


New York governor Eliot Spitzer submitted a bill to legalize same-sex marriage Friday, making good on a promise he made during his 2006 bid for the gubernatorial seat.

New York governor Eliot Spitzer submitted a bill to legalize same-sex marriage Friday, making good on a promise he made during his 2006 bid for the gubernatorial seat. This is the first time any U.S. governor has authored and introduced a same-sex marriage bill to a state legislature.

At the same time the bill was introduced, the New York State Department of Civil Service, which is part of the Spitzer administration, said that all legal out-of-state marriages of state and local government employees who are gay will now be recognized, meaning their spouses will now be eligible for the same medical, life insurance, and long-term care benefits that are granted to the spouses of heterosexual state employees.

"Today is a watershed moment in our community's struggle to win the freedom to marry in New York and have our relationships treated the same as any other relationship under the law," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York's LGBT lobby group.

The governor, who has called introducing the bill "a simple moral imperative," issued a statement in support of the bill that read, "Civil marriage is the means by which the state defines a couple's place in society. Those who are excluded from its rubric are told by the institutions of the State, in essence, that their solemn commitment to one another has no legal weight.... Granting legal recognition to these relationships can only strengthen New York's families, by extending the ability to participate in this crucial social institution to all New Yorkers."

Ethan Geto, a New York-based Democratic strategist and president of the consulting firm Geto and de Milly, said passage of the marriage bill--if it happens--will help shift the focus away from the judicial branch and so-called "activist judges," who conservative critics claim override the will of the people when they rule in favor of giving gays and lesbians the right to marry.

"If we can achieve gay marriage legislatively and the governor signs it into law, I think it will deflate many of the arguments our opponents use about activist courts as the vehicle for achieving marriage equality," said Geto.

A poll commissioned by the Pride Agenda in 2006 found that 53% of New Yorkers support marriage for same-sex couples while 38% do not. In an online poll conducted by Crain's Business Journal this month, 63% of voters in New York State said they support a same-sex marriage law.

But passage of the bill in the state legislature is far from certain. Marriage equality currently has the support of 61 members of the 150-person state assembly, where it will need 76 votes to pass. In the state senate, it has the support 18 senators but will need 32.

A push will now ensue to get a vote on the bill in the assembly, which Democrats control, before the close of the 2007 legislative session at the end of June. But orchestrating a vote in the Republican-controlled senate this year is less likely.

Democratic assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who is gay, said that by introducing the bill now, the governor has given marriage proponents "a real opportunity" to garner the support necessary for a vote in the assembly.

"We're going to have almost two full months to work on this," Glick said. "I'm going to be guardedly optimistic that we can muster sufficient votes to bring it to the floor."

Glick said one of the provisions of the bill that should make it more palatable to those legislators from more conservative areas of the state is that the bill does not require any clergy members to perform same-sex marriage.

"It reinforces [marriage] as a civic institution," Glick said.

Governor Spitzer's statement of support read, "In short, this bill grants equal access to the government-created legal institution of civil marriage, while leaving the religious institution of marriage to its own separate, and fully autonomous, sphere."

Getting the marriage bill to the floor of the senate, where Republicans hold a slim two-seat majority, will be a tougher slog. Although Democratic senate minority leader Malcolm Smith has voiced strong support for marriage equality, Albany insiders generally agree that Democrats would first have to take control of the chamber in order to bring about a vote.

"There's still a possibility that there may be some defections," said Ethan Geto, referencing rumors earlier this year that two Republican senators were thinking of switching their party affiliation. "But we've got an excellent chance of taking back seats in the election next year. I think we've got a good chance of passing this bill by 2009 if not sooner."

But openly gay state senator Thomas Duane, a Democrat, said the bill still has a chance of passing in the senate. "Maybe this year, more likely next year, or very, very soon," he said, adding that it would "absolutely" pass within the next five years.

Despite the fact that the senate is controlled by Republicans, Duane said the issue is "very problematic" for several Republican state senators because marriage equality has become very popular in suburban areas of New York State.

"Being for marriage is actually popular with the moderate swing voters, which Republicans need to win their elections," Duane said. "My experience with Republicans is that they will do anything they possibly can to keep their seats, including and especially becoming more liberal on the social issues."

Regardless of the bill's future, Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, a national organization working for marriage equality, said Spitzer's introduction of the bill made a strong political statement in and of itself.

"The fact that an intelligent, ambitious, strong politician like Eliot Spitzer feels he can do this and that he will be vindicated by history shows the momentum toward marriage equality," said Wolfson. (Kerry Eleveld, The Advocate)

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