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Turning Point for Marriage Equality in New York

Turning Point for Marriage Equality in New York

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A statement of support from James Alesi, the first Republican state senator to publicly announce he would vote yes on the marriage equality bill in New York, capped a day of watershed developments on Monday as the legislature moved briskly toward holding a vote, perhaps as early as this Thursday.

"It has been an extraordinary day," said Brian Ellner, senior strategist in New York for the Human Rights Campaign, a member of the bipartisan New Yorkers for United for Marriage coalition working to pass the bill before the legislative session ends June 20. He added, "There is tremendous momentum."

Advocates said Alesi made his announcement in the afternoon following a private meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Albany. The Rochester-area Republican, long considered open to appeals from marriage equality advocates, had previously characterized his mind as made up but refused to declare his position. Last month he sent a favorable signal by appearing at the upstate dinner presented by the Empire State Pride Agenda, also a member of the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition.

"This becomes a matter of equality for people, our sons and daughters, [who] deserve the same freedom and the same equality in this great country and in the state of New York that each of every one of us enjoy in our everyday life," said Alesi, according to Gannett.

The statement from Alesi followed the pivotal announcement earlier Monday that three undecided Democrats -- Joseph Addabbo, Shirley Huntley, and Carl Kruger -- who voted no in 2009 would support the bill. By bringing all Democrats except the avowedly antigay Ruben Diaz Sr. to the table, Cuomo and the coalition cleared a major remaining hurdle and shifted the burden of the bill's passage to Republican senators, who uniformly voted against the measure that failed after passing the Assembly in 2009. Polls show that historic majorities of New York voters support the same-sex marriage legislation, including Democrats and independents throughout the city, suburban, and upstate regions, although the Republican base remains opposed.

"Now that the burden has shifted, Republicans own it," said one insider. "They either do it or they don't. Any failures are going to be squarely on the shoulders of the Republicans."

With the addition of three Democrats and one Republican, 30 senators now publicly support the bill, leaving it just two votes shy of the number required for passage in the 62-member senate controlled by Republicans. The two remaining votes, or likely at least one more, to provide for political cover, must come from the Republicans, who are expected to debate the bill in conference Tuesday morning.

At least four more Republicans have been identified in surveys as undecided, although it remains unclear when or whether they would announce their support before a vote. Senate majority leader Dean Skelos, who personally opposes the bill but holds the power to bring it to a vote, has repeatedly said he would recommend the bill come to the floor pending consultation with his members.

As of early Monday evening, Cuomo, who was holding a previously scheduled meeting with Republican senators, had not yet sent a bill for the Senate to consider. However, a statement from New Yorkers United for Marriage indicated its arrival was imminent.

"The advocates met as a group with the Governor to discuss next steps," said the statement after the rapid-fire breakthroughs of the afternoon. "It was the consensus of the group that the Governor should send up a marriage equality bill, and it is our understanding he will do so shortly."

Cuomo has said repeatedly that he and the advocates do not want to hold a vote on a bill that would fail. The decision to send a bill soon suggests confidence of a successful vote outcome before the legislative session ends June 20, perhaps before the end of this week.

The Senate was due back in session Monday night. Given the prescribed waiting period for legislation sent under ordinary, nonemergency circumstances, if the governor were to send a bill by midnight Monday, the earliest it would be likely to receive a vote is Thursday, said sources familiar with the process.

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