Dramatic Week for Same-Sex Marriage Ends in Stalemate Over Bill

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A vote in the state Senate on gay marriage is not expected until next week, as Republicans, who hold the majority in that house, wrangle with concerns over greater protections for religious organizations.

As the week began, momentum was growing for passage of the same-sex marriage bill in the Senate. Twenty-nine of the 30 Democrats in the Senate stood with Governor Andrew Cuomo, and pledged to vote 'yes' should the bill come to the floor. Cuomo urged Republican Senators — who are in the majority in that House — to stand with them. 

"Represent the people, not the party leaders," said Cuomo, who said 60 percent of New Yorkers support gay marriage. "Vote your conscience, not you fears."

By the end of the day, Republican Senator James Alesi, who had been among a handful of undecided senators, announced after a meeting with Cuomo that he was in the 'yes' column: "I would support the bill," Alesi said.

The developments spurred Cuomo to release a bill, something he had vowed he would not do until there were enough votes to pass it. The bill was still two votes short. One day later, GOP Senator Roy McDonald said he had changed his mind and would approve same-sex marriage.

"I'm trying to be a compassionate person and do the right thing," McDonald said. "I think it was the appropriate thing to do."

The vote stood at 31-31. Republican leader Dean Skelos predicted the bill could come to the Senate floor as early as Friday. Then, things came to a halt. It seemed no one wanted to step forward to become the pivotal 32nd vote and endure all of the pressures that would come with that.

The GOP held a four-hour marathon closed-door conference, and at the end, Senator Skelos said there was no decision on what to do next.

"The discussions are going to continue," Skelos said. "The issue has not been resolved."

Republican Senators began examining Cuomo's bill, and some found they had concerns that there were not strong enough exemptions for religious organizations and some of the charitable services that they provide.

"Nobody wants to be in a position where we're shutting down Catholic adoption agencies," said Senator Greg Ball, who noted he wanted more guarantees. "And the governor has got to, in my opinion, pay real attention to that."

As the week wound down, Cuomo met privately in his office with Republican Senators to talk about their concerns. He also met with those he thought might be wavering on the issue.

The Republicans held another lengthy closed door session where Catholic priests expressed their concerns with the measure. But again, no decision was reached.

Skelos said concerns continued about "unintended consequences" of some of the religious "clauses, carve outs, protections" in the bill.

A spokesman for the governor, Josh Vlasto, said he had no comment and that talks are continuing.

Skelos said Cuomo has been very "gracious" and has listened to their concerns, and they hope to pick it all up again on Monday.