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Marriage in the Air in New York

Marriage in the Air in New York


New York could be the next state to see marriage equality, but the fate of the bill remains unclear while advocates await final state senate election results, which could take weeks, and a series of ugly legal battles, to determine.

Following the election on Tuesday, Republicans have made claim to 30 seats in the next senate while Democrats have won 29. Hanging in the balance are three seats currently held by pro-equality Democrats in western New York, Westchester County, and Long Island.

As the The Buffalo News reports, mere hundreds of votes separate the incumbents from their Republican challengers in the close contests. Absentee and military ballots, which tend to lean Republican, cannot be counted until next week.

Fighting is fierce to control the state senate this year following the 2010 Census because of redistricting, which gives the majority party a role in the redrawing of legislative maps, with the potential to influence election outcomes for years to come. Both parties already have marshaled teams of election lawyers and braced for a prolonged struggle.

Given the slim chance of retaining all three undecided seats, many observers say that the best-case scenario for Democrats now could be a 31-31 tie. Another scenario puts them in the minority, with Republicans holding a 32-30 lead. Democrats have held a 32-30 lead in the senate since 2008, following four decades of Republican control.

Last year Democratic leadership brought the marriage equality bill to the floor, where it failed by a vote of 38-24. Should Republicans regain control, their presumed majority leader, Dean Skelos, committed last month to bringing the bill to the floor for another vote, a significant development because it opens a pathway for marriage equality under either party. On the other hand, an unprecedented 31-31 tie could plunge the senate into uncharted legal territory, including the question of whether the lieutenant governor would have any power to break the deadlock.

In an substantial upside for marriage equality, Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo was elected governor Tuesday on a Democratic ticket with lieutenant governor-elect Robert Duffy, the mayor of Rochester. Cuomo has repeatedly affirmed his interest in signing a marriage equality bill, and his reform-minded campaign attracted endorsements from some Republicans, many of whom felt repelled by their party's Tea Party-backed nominee, Carl Paladino.

While senate control hangs in the balance, advocates behind the scenes are focused on lobbying to the extent they can. They need to assess the positions of newly elected senators and likely winners, and continue to work to flip the votes of senators, including Democrats and Republicans, who voted against the bill. In this regard, advocates hope that lawmakers will be moved by this year's stunning efforts by a coalition of gay groups to defeat incumbents Frank Padavan and Bill Stachowski from Queens and Buffalo, respectively, and former senator Hiram Monserrate from Queens. All have been replaced by pro-equality senators.

Still, some key next moves will remain on hold until the question of senate control gets settled in the coming weeks.

"It's a lot like a ballgame," one insider told The Advocate. "You can't move forward until you know the players."
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Julie Bolcer