Gov. David Paterson plans to introduce legislation this week to legalize same-sex marriage, reviving a bill that died in 2007 and still faces strong opposition despite a new Democratic majority in the state Senate.
Paterson, talking to reporters Tuesday in Hempstead, said “there is clearly a problem” when gays and lesbians in civil unions are denied 1,200 to 1,350 civil protections such as health care and pension rights because they’re not married.
“The timing was always right. It’s just who is willing to take that step, and I am,” Paterson said. “I think it is, as other states are showing, the only ethical way to treat people who want to live together in peace under the civil law. So my general feeling about all these issues is the right ethical decision will inevitably be the right political decision.”
In radio interviews last week Paterson said he believes it will eventually become law. But polls show legalizing gay marriage remains controversial in New York, and some gay marriage advocates are worried that bringing the issue up before there’s clear support to pass it could set back efforts to legalize it here as well as in other states.
Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat, said he will attend Thursday’s announcement and sponsor the governor’s bill, which will be identical to the one backed by then Gov. Eliot Spitzer as a civil-rights measure when it passed the Assembly 85-61 two years ago.
“I’m hoping to do better than that this time,” O’Donnell said Tuesday.
“I’m very happy the governor has made this a priority,” O’Donnell said. “When we got the bill from Gov. Spitzer in 2007, we didn’t have the votes either. I did that in 2007 and I intend to do that again in 2009.”
The Democrat-controlled Assembly passed the bill with three Republicans voting in favor, as well as some Democrats who faced criticism in their upstate districts for their support. It died in the Senate, where the Republican majority kept it from going to a vote.
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith supports the measure but still doesn’t believe there are enough votes to pass it, spokesman Austin Shafran said. The Democrats have a 32-30 majority.
“Most significantly, an issue of this importance demands more than a symbolic gesture and empty rhetoric,” Shafran said, acknowledging the Senate doesn’t have to act on a bill just because it was introduced. “We are committed to the process of securing the votes for passage of marriage equality, and as the leader has said in the past, it will pass as soon as we have those votes.”
Mark Hansen, spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said Tuesday that, “Our conference is opposed to gay marriage and that has not changed.”
“I think this is an attempt to gain momentum,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, legislative director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which opposes the measure. “But the simple reality is this is a very controversial issue, especially with this talk about the Senate majority being as razor thin as it is.
“The arm twisting’s going to begin,” said McGuire, who said he thinks at least three Democrats are now against the bill.
In Vermont, lawmakers voted last week to override the governor’s veto of a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry. The week before, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that marriage couldn’t be restricted to unions of a man and a woman. It’s also legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut. California briefly allowed gay marriage last year until a voter initiative in November repealed it.
A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed 41 percent of New York voters support same-sex marriage, up from 35 percent almost two years earlier, while one-third said gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not marry and 19 percent said there should be no legal recognition.
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