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Marriage Equality Bill Stalled in N.Y. Senate

Marriage Equality Bill Stalled in N.Y. Senate


The Republican Senate conference is scheduled to meet again Friday morning in New York, but with other business still to be completed, it remains unclear when the conference will discuss the marriage equality bill with amended language for religious protections and decide whether to bring it to the floor for a vote.

On Thursday, Senate majority leader Dean Skelos said he would present the measure to his members for consideration and he expected a "lengthy" conversation, a prospect that seems challenging on a Friday as lawmakers enter their fourth day of overtime in a session that was scheduled to end last Monday.

Whether or not the marriage equality bill reaches the floor for a vote is the decision of the Republican Senate majority conference. Most of the members oppose the bill, but only one more vote, which must come from a Republican, would be needed for the measure to pass on the floor. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled Assembly last week, and Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver has indicated that the proposed religious exemption amendments would be acceptable to his chamber.

The marriage equality bill has been stalled for over a week in the Senate as public pressure and protests continue to mount at the capitol building in Albany. According to The Buffalo News, security was tightened late Thursday night over concern about the reaction of the bill's opponents in the event the measure passes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week he was "cautiously optimistic" the bill would pass, as he and the coalition of advocates have reached a "threshold" in securing 31 votes, from 29 Democrats and two Republicans. The governor has called for a vote on the bill, a sentiment that New Yorkers United for Marriage repeated Thursday after the Senate adjourned for the night.

"The Senate has adjourned for the evening, but we remain steadfast in our demand that the Senate uphold its obligation to the people of the State of New York and allow a vote on marriage equality and other legislative business before concluding the session and leaving town," said the statement.

Also Thursday, state senator Greg Ball, who garnered attention with his calls for more religious exemptions in the marriage equality bill, announced that he planned to vote no on the measure, although he said he believed it would pass.

Ball, a Republican from Putnam County who last week asked followers on Twitter how he should vote, confirmed his switch from undecided to opposed in a statement. He said that he pushed for stronger religious protections "knowing that marriage equality was likely to pass," but apparently the final religious exemptions language negotiated between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and senate Republicans proved inadequate for him.

"Now that the final text is public, I am proud that I have secured some strong protections for religious institutions and basic protections for religious organizations," he said. "The bill still lacks many of the basic religious protections I thought were vital, and for this reason, and as I did in the Assembly, I will be voting 'no.'"

Contrary to his statement, the final religious exemptions language to be considered by the Republican senators, perhaps in conference Friday, has not been made public. A spokeswoman for Ball said Thursday that the senator mistakenly believed the language had been made public because he received so many questions about it.

Ball was not one of the three Republicans who met repeatedly with the governor's office to negotiate the exemptions language, and his concerns about protections for religious businesses and individuals seemed to exceed the narrow issues that people familiar with the negotiations said were under discussion. Asked whether his change to a no vote indicated that protections for religious businesses and individuals were not included in the still-secret language, the Ball spokeswoman said, "That's accurate, yes."

The announcement from Ball leaves three Republican senators undecided, including Mark Grisanti, Andrew Lanza, and Stephen Saland. Lanza and Saland were part of the team that negotiated the religious exemptions language with Cuomo.

A spokesman for Cuomo has not responded to a request for comment about the religious exemptions.

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Julie Bolcer