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Marriage Equality Bill Stuck in New York Senate

Marriage Equality Bill Stuck in New York Senate


New York senate Republicans failed to reach a decision whether to hold a vote on the marriage equality bill in a Thursday morning meeting that included a visit from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York senate Republicans met Thursday morning to continue their discussion about whether to bring the marriage equality bill to the floor for a vote, but afternoon remarks from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attended the meeting, suggested that the conference was no closer to a resolution.

"I believe that if a bill comes to the floor, it will pass," said Bloomberg to reporters in Albany. The mayor, a major financial contributor to the Republican conference who lobbied at the capital last month, said he based his assessment on conversations at various points with the senators. He mentioned by name John Flanagan, Mark Grisanti and Andrew Lanza, none of whom publicly supports the bill.

Currently, 29 Democrats and two Republicans have said they would vote yes for the bill, which needs 32 votes to pass the senate. The decisive vote, and likely at least one more to provide political cover, must come from Republicans, with every Democrat on board except the avowedly antigay Ruben Diaz Sr.

Bloomberg said he believed the bill would pass with more than the "bare majority," but acknowledged that he had no personal commitments from any of the Republican senators. In addition to two visits to Albany, the mayor delivered a major public speech last month and has contributed $350,000 of the nearly $2 million raised, mostly from Republican donors, for New Yorkers United for Marriage, the coalition working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pass the bill this session.

"I can't tell you that anyone has looked me in the eye and said, 'I'm going to be there,'" said the mayor, who added that all the senators were "seriously and rigorously" weighing the issue.

Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, reiterated the "conservative case" for marriage in his remarks, where he mentioned a recent op-ed in the New York Daily News by Margaret Hoover.

The mayor, who began to advocate publicly for marriage equality in 2005, said that he told the senators Thursday morning that what clinched the issue for him was the Republican principle of "keeping government out of areas where it does not belong."

The Thursday morning conference followed a four-hour, closed-door conversation on Wednesday in which the members of the majority party failed to arrive at a decision on bringing the bill to a vote. The legislative session is scheduled to end this Monday, although it could be extended, with the governor and legislature also lacking resolution on other issues.

One excuse for senate inaction on the marriage equality bill disappeared on Wednesday night, when the Democratic-controlled assembly passed the measure for the fourth time since 2007 by a bipartisan vote of 80 to 63. Daniel O'Donnell, the openly gay lawmaker from Manhattan, sponsored the bill. Yes votes included three New York City Democrats - Karim Camara, Nelson Castro and Nick Perry - who voted against the bill in 2009.

On Monday, Cuomo, a Democrat with high approval ratings, announced that three undecided senators from his party who voted no in 2009 - Joseph Addabbo, Shirley Huntley and Carl Kruger - would support the bill this year. The news was followed by announcements of support from two Republicans , James Alesi and Roy McDonald, who voted against the bill two years ago. The governor has made calls to other undecided Republicans according to reports.

Majority Leader Dean Skelos said last year that he would recommend that a marriage equality bill come to the floor for a vote pending consultation with his conference.

Political considerations rank high on the list of Republican concerns as they seek to maintain and even grow their slim 32 to 30 majority in the senate, the last bastion of GOP power in the state, in the 2012 elections. A series of polls shows that while a majority of voters statewide including Democrats and independents support the issue, the Republican base still opposes marriage equality. The Conservative Party of New York State has vowed not to provide its influential endorsement to any lawmaker who votes for the bill.

Other Republican senators, notably Greg Ball of Putnam County, have expressed concerns that the religious exemptions in the bill submitted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo are inadequate. Ball seems to want language to clarify that religious organizations should not be required to provide services such as adoption and foster care against their religious beliefs, a position that appears to be a non-starter with Cuomo and the advocates. The New York State Catholic Conference, a powerful lobbying force in the capital, would not support a marriage equality bill under any circumstances, with Archbishop Timothy Dolan likening a same-sex marriage law to the tyranny of Communist regimes.

Bloomberg endorsed the religious exemption language of the bill as it stands now in his remarks on Thursday.

"There are enough carveouts and protections in the bill," he said. "This would impinge on nobody."

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