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Crunch Time for Marriage Equality in New York

Crunch Time for Marriage Equality in New York


Six session days remain in the jam-packed legislative calendar in New York, where those working to pass a marriage equality bill by June 20 expressed growing confidence as the campaign enters its critical, final week.

UPDATE: Three previously undecided Democratic state senators will now support legislation granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, multiple sources confirmed to The Advocate Monday afternoon.

The support from senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Carl Kruger, and Shirley L. Huntley was first reported by The New York Times.

The three state senators had voted against a gay marriage bill that failed by a 38-24 vote in 2009.

"We commend Senators Addabbo, Huntley and Kruger for joining Governor Cuomo and the record majority of New Yorkers who believe that now is time for all New Yorkers to have the freedom to marry the person they love," New Yorkers United For Marriage said in a Monday afternoon statement. "Today, loving, committed same-sex couples -- and their families and friends -- from across this great State have moved one step closer to realizing their dreams. We remain hopeful and confident that this momentum continues to build so that marriage equality becomes a reality before the end of this Legislative session."

People involved said a bill could be sent from the governor to the Senate early in the week with a vote possible by Friday. However, prior to any consideration and vote, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been expected to assure Republican Senate leadership, either privately or publicly, that at least two of the three undecided Democratic senators support the bill.

The legislation would make New York the sixth state to allow same-sex couples to marry, in addition to the District of Columbia. Since Proposition 8 repealed marriage equality in California, New York would also become the most populous state to legalize same-sex marriages, effectively doubling the number of Americans with access to the freedom to marry.

"Right now, the burden is on the Democrats," said one person close to the process over the weekend. "If the cards are shown, they're [Senate Republicans] either going to have to put up or shut up and they're going to have to own it."

According to The New York Times, the governor has summoned advocates to a final strategy session in Albany Monday afternoon.

When the marriage equality bill failed in the Senate, then controlled by Democrats, in 2009, every Republican and eight Democrats voted against it in a 24 to 38 loss. Currently, 26 senators, all Democrats, publicly support the bill, and strategists have indicated that a successful vote depends on first moving the remaining three undecided Democrats, not including the avowedly antigay Ruben Diaz Sr., into the yes column.

Last week an outpouring of elected officials and advocates rallied in Queens, the borough represented by two of the Democratic senators who voted no in 2009, Joseph Addabbo and Shirley Huntley. The other undecided Democrat who voted no two years ago, Carl Kruger, represents Brooklyn.

Presuming the governor can produce his fellow Democrats, reaching the 32 votes needed to pass the bill in large part becomes a political calculation of convincing a handful of Republican senators inclined to support marriage equality that they can vote for the measure and win reelection in 2012. Given the threat of the influential Conservative Party of New York State not to endorse Republicans who support the issue, the task is difficult but not impossible.

"Things are moving in the right direction," said Brian Ellner, senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign in New York, Monday morning.

Since 2009 gay donors have helped unseat three senators who voted against the marriage equality bill. In the past two months, almost $2 million, more than half of it from Republican donors, has been raised for New Yorkers United for Marriage, the bipartisan coalition of five LGBT groups working to pass the bill this session.

In addition, a series of polls consistently shows support for marriage equality in New York at historic levels of 58%, with an all-time low of 36% opposed. Majorities of Democrats, independents and voters across all regions support the issue, including voters in the Long Island suburbs represented by Republicans where Governor Cuomo enjoys high approval ratings.

Taken together, some strategists say, the landscape presents a compelling case for undecided Republican senators to vote yes in agreement with their heart and help ensure their party retains the majority. Republicans held the senate for 40 years until 2008 when Democrats briefly wrested control with more than $1 million from gay donors, many of whom later faulted the party for the marriage equality bill's loss.

"For us, conscience means doing what you think is right," said one operative. "In Albany, conscience means doing what you think is right for your district."

If and when the governor sends a marriage equality bill, Republican senators still need to consider it in conference. Senate majority leader Dean Skelos, who opposes the measure, said last year that he would recommend bringing the bill to the floor pending consultation with his members. Skelos has freed his members to vote their "consciences" on the issue, including when the bill failed in 2009.

While the legislative session is scheduled to end June 20, an extension would not be unprecedented. Regardless, public displays of support and opposition are expected to intensify throughout the anticipated final week of business. New Yorkers United for Marriage has planned roundtables on the importance of marriage equality in Queens, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island. On Tuesday, evangelical Christians opposed to marriage equality plan to protest New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has lobbied Republican senators, delivered a speech, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help pass the bill.

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Julie Bolcer