ALBANY, N.Y. (BP)–A bill that would legalize “gay marriage” in New York may be doomed after the state Senate flipped from Democratic to Republican control Monday.
Two breakaway Democrats joined all 30 of the chamber’s Republicans to give the GOP a 32-30 edge in a chaotic afternoon scene that saw the Democrats — who had gained control last November — turn off the room’s lights in an attempt to halt the process.
The surprise takeover means that a “gay marriage” bill that already had passed the Democratic Assembly and is supported by Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson is up in the air, even though the takeover apparently had nothing to do with the issue. (Frustration with leadership and the handling of the budget were cited as two key reasons.) In fact, one of the dissident Democrats, Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., is a co-sponsor of the bill, while the other Democrat, Sen. Hiram Monserrate, remains undecided. Both say they will remain Democrats and that the coalition will be bipartisan but that they will caucus with Republicans.
The previous majority leader, Malcolm A. Smith, supports the bill, while the new majority leader, Republican Dean G. Skelos, opposes it. Under the agreement Espada becomes Senate president, a title Smith held.
Legalization of “gay marriage” in New York — the nation’s media center and the third most populous state — is seen as critical in homosexual activists’ goal of spreading “gay marriage” nationwide.
Smith had said the bill wouldn’t come to the floor until the votes were there to pass it, and the state’s leading homosexual activist organizations were putting intense pressure on senators who either were uncommitted or considered soft in their opposition. One of those groups, the Empire State Pride Agenda, released a statement Tuesday saying the bill, until the surprise floor action, “was gaining momentum in the State Senate.” It urged the new coalition to allow a floor vote.
Espada told a radio station Tuesday that he would like to see the bill brought to the floor for a vote, although he said he hadn’t discussed it with Skelos.
Smith, though, insisted Tuesday that he was still the majority leader — as the Senate website stated — and that the GOP had made “an illegal and unlawful attempt to gain control of the Senate.” Smith argued that the meeting had been gaveled to a close and the lights turned off prior to the vote to reorganize the Senate and install Skelos as majority leader; Republicans countered by saying a GOP motion was pending at the time of the adjournment and, therefore, the meeting, by rule, could not be adjourned.
Smith and his fellow Democrats were considering legal action. But their majority was tenuous from the moment they took control in November, as one of the Democrats, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister, said late last year he would not support any majority leader who brought the issue of “gay marriage” to the floor, as Smith had pledged. The two men came to a private agreement in January, although it was unclear what the agreement was.
A poll of all 62 senators by the cable newschannel NY1 June 5 showed the bill — which needs 32 votes to pass — has the support of 20 senators (all Democrats), with nine undecided (five Democrats, four Republicans). Four senators (three Republicans, one Democrat) wouldn’t say where they stood on the issue, and 29 (23 Republicans, six Democrats) oppose it.
The bill’s opponents had stepped up their opposition in recent days, with the National Organization for Marriage launching a $100,000 television and radio ad campaign.
“Legalizing gay marriage has consequences for kids,” the ad states in part. “… Massachusetts schools teach second-graders that boys can marry other boys.”
Ironically, conservative groups previously had scheduled a rally at the capitol in Albany for Tuesday morning to urge senators to oppose the bill. The rally featured several speakers, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, who were scheduled long before the takeover took place.
Gov. Paterson introduced the bill in April and it sailed through the Assembly May 12, 89-52, putting the spotlight on the Senate.
The bill has drawn attention from various quarters. Actress Cynthia Nixon, a lesbian, said she wanted to “marry” her partner in-state and that she would pressure lawmakers to pass the bill. Additionally, Paterson’s administration — at least prior to the GOP takeover — was reaching out to former Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno to assist in lobbying members of his own party to support the bill, the New York Daily News reported. Bruno no longer is in the Senate and formerly opposed “gay marriage” but apparently has changed position, the newspaper said.
New York’s Catholic bishops stated their opposition to the bill in a joint statement June 1, urging church members to call their legislators.
“[T]he state has a compelling legal interest in promoting marriage between men and women in order to create stable families and provide for the safety, health and well being of children,” the statement said. It further said: “We face today the prospect of a law in New York which would radically change the timeless institution of marriage. As pastors of citizens from every corner of our great state, we stand unified in our strong opposition to such a drastic measure.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The “gay marriage” bill is S4401 in the Senate. The Albany Times-Union has posted video of the takeover in three parts at http://blogs.timesunion.com/capitol/page/2 (search for “senate coup video”). For more information about the bill from a perspective of a conservative New York group, visit www.NYCF.info (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms) or www.NYFRF.org (New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation).