Same-Sex Marriage Bill Hinges on Religion Protections, Senate Says

Senate Republicans say protecting religious groups that won't perform same-sex weddings or offer services to same-sex couples is a significant factor in their refusal to bring the the bill to a vote.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, who emerged from a three-hour conference with Republicans Friday, did not say when negotiations in Albany might end or when the conference could vote to send the bill to a vote or kill it.

Friday was the third day of closed-door conferencing on the topic, which has steadily built momentum this week ahead of the end of the legislative session on June 20. Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Albany to make a pitch for same-sex marriage on Thursday.

Skelos said the Republicans are still debating whether the current version of the bill provides enough exemptions for people with religious beliefs against same-sex marriage. This was also a concern for Reverend Norman Macklin of the Empire Baptist Missionary Convention, who said even though the current bill only covers civil marriages, there are state officials who may be personally opposed to performing civil ceremonies for gay couples. 

"Town clerks, or justices of the peace who marry people, or for instance, captains on ships, and they have a conscience against marrying a gay couple – they have to be covered individually," Macklin said.

Reverend Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical organization lobbying against the bill, said he's also concerned about private individual's who oppose gay marriage. "If you’re a cake baker or you have a catering house or something like that, and your business is built on weddings, and now you’re going to have to allow those businesses, those facilities to be used for these same-sex ceremonies – that’s a concern to people that have strongly held objection to same-sex marriage," McGuire said.

The proposed law states that no clergy can be forced to solemnize a gay marriage, and that no benevolent organization or “religious corporation” can be compelled to provide accommodations or facilities for same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The legislation needs 32 Senate votes to pass.

With reporting by Ailsa Chang and the Associated Press