New York state senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said Tuesday that should his party win control of the chamber next month, he would bring the marriage equality bill to the floor again for an up-or-down vote, but he remains opposed to the bill.
Skelos spoke at a fund-raiser for the New York Log Cabin Republicans in Manhattan, where he predicted his party could win four or five senate seats in the November election and wrest control of the chamber from Democrats, who hold a slim 32-30 majority. Should Republicans return to the majority, which they held for more than 40 years until 2008, Skelos said he would recommend that the marriage equality bill get a vote regardless of whether the outcome is known in advance.
"I've always said that it will be a vote of conscience with our members, and subject to speaking to my conference, I would put the bill out for a vote again," said Skelos, who added that he would once again oppose the bill.
The comments represent the most supportive to date from Skelos, who until now maintained that his members were free to vote as they wished on the marriage equality bill. Despite that allowance, last year no Republicans voted for the bill brought by Democrats, which failed by a 38-24 margin in its first time on the senate floor, with eight Democrats also voting against it.
In a contentious meeting with gay Democrats this past summer, Democratic conference leader John Sampson indicated a preference for bringing the marriage equality bill for another vote only when it would be certain to pass. Skelos expressed no such hesitation in his remarks to nearly 40 attendees at the Log Cabin Republicans event.
"Let me just say, when we win back the majority, there is legislation that I believe all of you are interested in, that I believe should be voted on again," he said. "We're not going to stifle discussion. We are not going to stifle votes. And it is truly my belief that people should be allowed to vote their consciences."
Gregory T. Angelo, the chairman of the New York Log Cabin Republicans, called the Skelos announcement "encouraging," particularly for its potential to calm concerns that Republican leadership would block another marriage equality vote. However, he declined to discuss whether more support exists now for the bill.
"I don't know that it's exactly productive to play the numbers game," he said. "All I can say is that we're going to keep on lobbying and focus our political giving on making that a reality, on making sure that those votes are there when we need them."
Among the major party candidates for governor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo has made the passage of marriage equality a priority. Republican Carl Paladino, whose homophobic remarks from the weekend continue to reverberate despite a recent apology, has vowed to veto a marriage equality bill in favor of holding a referendum on the issue. Polls show Cuomo with a substantial lead.
Ross Levi, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide lobbying group that will host Cuomo at its fall dinner this Thursday, issued a pragmatic response to the Skelos announcement.
"It is encouraging news that the democratic process will be allowed to move forward, but ultimately, we need to win," he said. "The Pride Agenda encourages both Democratic and Republican candidates to voice their support for LGBT issues like marriage equality before the voters go to the polls and make their decisions on November 2. Our community needs to be focused like a laser beam on the upcoming elections and getting committed supporters of LGBT issues elected to office. We welcome allies of all political stripes, even if the last time it came up for a vote, the Senate Republicans were unable to muster a single vote in favor of allowing loving, committed same-sex couples to legally marry in our own state."