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Marriage Gains in N.Y., But How Much?

Marriage Gains in N.Y., But How Much?


While New York awaits the final results of state senate elections, early indications point to a net gain of marriage equality votes, although it remains unclear how many, and control of the chamber still hangs in the balance.

All eyes are on the senate to advance the marriage equality bill in New York. The assembly has passed the bill multiple times, and governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has pledged to sign it, as did Governor David Paterson, who will leave office at the end of this year.

On Tuesday, thanks to the backing of statewide groups including the Human Rights Campaign, Fight Back New York and the Empire State Pride Agenda, pro-equality Democrats secured four victories in Buffalo, Queens and Rockland County. The hard-fought wins included the culmination of a primary defeat over an antigay Democrat, the wresting of a seat from a longtime Republican incumbent, and a victory in an open contest. Together with the defeat in March of Hiram Monserrate, a Democrat from Queens who voted against marriage equality last year, the results add five new votes for the bill, which failed by a 38-24 in December.

However, election night also yielded a loss for Brian Foley, a Long Island Democrat who voted for marriage equality, and three other Democrats who voted for the bill remain locked in races still too close to call. Pending the outcome of those contests, and barring any legal challenges to other races, reported to be a possibility for some Queens contests, marriage equality advocates could see the number of votes for the bill land anywhere from 25 to 28, compared to 24 votes last year.

At the same time, Democratic losses also endanger the party's slim 32-30 majority. When the continuing contests are resolved, Democrats could maintain a razor-thin margin, tie with Republicans at 31-31, or slip slightly back into the minority.

Should Republicans win control of the state senate, their current leader Dean Skelos said last month he would not be averse to bringing the marriage equality bill to the floor for an up or down vote, and that his members would be free to vote their consciences. Not a single Republican voted for marriage equality last year when Skelos also supported a conscience vote as the Democrats brought the bill to the floor.

If a 31-31 deadlock were to occur, the senate would enter a murky area where scholars debate the right of the lieutenant governor to cast a tie-breaking vote. Lieutenant governor-elect Robert Duffy, the mayor of Rochester, has said he would look forward to casting such a vote.

On the other hand, at least one advocate cautioned against putting too much emphasis on vote tallies and senate control at the expense of what the statewide election results teach district-level legislators with political ambitions. That is, every elected official, and all of them happened to be Democrats, who won statewide office Tuesday was a vocal proponent of marriage equality, including Cuomo for governor, both U.S. senate seats, and the attorney general and controller's seats.

"I don't think it's about vote counting based on past behavior," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "They're going to look around and they're going to see that every statewide who won last night was vociferously for marriage equality from day one. Whether it's Democrats or Republicans, they're going to look around and say that, 'If I ever run for statewide office, I have to be on that side of that issue.' That's the sentiment that is now cemented, the idea that being pro-LGBT is the political way to go in New York state."

In another bright spot, Cuomo defeated Republican Carl Paladino by a wide margin and in most areas of the state to win the governor's post, which gives the Democrat a strong mandate for his reform-minded platform that includes a push for marriage equality.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Julie Bolcer