Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
After a Surge of Momentum, Same-Sex Marriage Bill Stalls
Thursday, June 16, 2011
As the week draws to a close, advocates and legislators on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate say they are uncertain when — or if — the bill that had built so much momentum on Monday will actually come up for a vote in the state Senate by June 20, the end of the legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos emerged Thursday after the second day of Republican conferencing on the topic, saying once again that the party is unresolved on the issue.
"The conference will continue to discuss the issue throughout the day, and other issues too, like rent stabilization,” said Skelos, referring to the expiration of state rent regulations after the Senate failed to pass a bill to extend them. The issue has competed for the Senate’s attention over the last couple days.
What's at Stake
Lobbyists against same-sex marriage say the issue is coming down to re-election prospects for Republicans, who are worried a yes vote will bring the wrath of the state Conservative Party and other gay marriage opponents.
"Anybody who votes for this is going to be a target," said Duane Motley of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical organization lobbying against gay marriage. "If the Republicans cave on this one, they're going to lose control of the Senate. They will be in the minority for probably decades to come."
The same-sex marriage bill, which Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced Tuesday and passed through the Assembly Wednesday by 80 to 63, remains stalled in the Senate by just one vote. So far, 29 Democrats and two Republicans support the bill's passage.
Support Grows for Bill
Three Democrats who had voted against same-sex marriage in 2009 – Joe Addabbo and Shirley Huntley of Queens and Carl Kruger of Brooklyn – declared their support for same-sex marriage on Monday.
The same day, Senator Jim Alesi of Rochester became the first Republican to announce his intended yes vote. Republican Roy McDonald of Rennselaer County joined the list on Tuesday, and the Senate vote tally in favor of same-sex marriage has remained at 31 since.
At least one Republican Senator — Greg Ball of Putnam County — said he will only vote for the bill if it includes more aggressive exemptions for individuals and "any tax-exempt organizations" who do not want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, lease space for them or perform other services if they have moral reservations about the gay marriages.
The legislation needs 32 senate votes to pass.
A Hold Up
When asked if the Senate will give itself more time to vote on same-sex marriage by going into an extended session next Tuesday and Wednesday, Skelos responded, "God only knows."
"There's no hold-up," said Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican from Staten Island who is on the short list of senators who might also vote yes on the bill. "We're having a great discussion. We're moving forward. We're addressing this very important issue in the way it should be addressed — with intelligence, with concern. We want to get this right."
And lobbyists for same-sex marriage say there is no lag of momentum over the bill — the seeming delay is just business as usual in Albany.
"Anybody who knows the end of session in Albany knows that this is not unusual," said Ross Levi, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay rights organization. "There's a whole lot of issues that have to get done in a short period of time. But we know that this issue remains active, and we are hopeful and expectant that our elected officials will do the right thing."
Bloomberg Makes a Pitch
Mayor Michael Bloomberg made another trip to Albany Thursday to throw his weight behind the bill. He spoke with Republicans for less than an hour and said he urged them to vote with "their hearts and principles."
Bloomberg said he has personally spoken with Republicans still supposedly undecided – Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, John Flanagan of Suffolk County and Mark Grisanti of Buffalo.
"I've never fit perfectly into either party," said Bloomberg, an independent. "But to me, one of the virtues of the GOP has always been its efforts to promote freedom. The Republican Party stands for personal liberty and freedom. I see marriage equality as entirely consistent with that."
Bloomberg added that he's convinced the bill will become law – as long as it gets to a vote.
"I think in the end, if this bill comes to the floor, and I expect it to do so, it will pass and it will have more than just the bare majority necessary to pass it," said Bloomberg.