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Frank MacKay, the chair of the influential Independence Party of New York, announced his support for marriage equality legislation, although his party is not taking an official stance on the issue.
The Associated Press reported on the position of MacKay, whose party represents 425,000 members in New York, making it the third largest in the state behind the Democratic and Republican organizations. MacKay characterized his support as a matter of civil rights, which he called the "guiding principle" of the Independence Party.
"MacKay's statement could be key in the critical state senate vote because the Conservative Party strongly opposes the measure," reports the AP. "Some Republicans essential to the bill's passage could have to choose between the parties' endorsements."
Last week, the executive committee of the Conservative Party of New York passed a resolution to deny endorsements to any candidates that support marriage equality, making good on comments from chairman Michael Long, who told The Advocate last month that he viewed the issue as a "line in the sand." Although the Conservative Party membership is only about one-third the size of the Independence Party's, some Republicans view Conservative Party support as essential to their success in certain senate districts.
The support from the Independence Party chairman helps to warm the climate for any Republican senators leaning toward marriage equality support but weighing the potential loss of the Conservative Party's endorsement. MacKay hails from Suffolk County on Long Island, where two recent polls show that majorities of suburban New Yorkers support marriage equality and all nine state senators are Republicans.
"Having the vocal backing of Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay represents an enormous boost for passage of marriage equality in New York State," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, in a statement released by the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition. "Support for marriage spans all demographics and political affiliations, including a significant plurality among independent voters. We call on the New York Legislature to heed the majority of New Yorkers and support the freedom for all loving, committed couples to marry."
New Yorkers United for Marriage, a bipartisan coalition of five LGBT advocacy organizations, is working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pass a marriage equality bill by the end of June. The bill failed two years ago in the state senate, where a handful of Republicans are needed to vote for the measure, but no GOP senator publicly supports the bill at this time.