Schenectady County

Few New York state senators control fate of same-sex marriage bill

As advocates of same-sex marriage make local and statewide appeals for the passage of a marriage equ

As advocates of same-sex marriage make local and statewide appeals for the passage of a marriage equality bill before the state legislative session ends June 20, opponents remain equally committed and gain confidence with each passing day.

Meanwhile, potential swing votes like state Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, appear trapped in the middle.

For years, the stumbling block for same-sex marriage proponents in New York has been the state Senate, which has never approved a marriage equality bill, while the Assembly has repeatedly passed the measure. Most recently, in December 2009, the Assembly passed a marriage equality law and hours later watched it come eight votes short of passage in the Senate.

Currently, there is a marriage equality law in the Assembly, but the Senate has not introduced companion legislation.

The lack of a bill in the Senate primarily stems from a reluctance to introduce the legislation before it is clear it has a chance to pass. About 10 senators have remained quiet on the issue. One of them is McDonald, who has repeatedly voted against marriage equality bills, but is still viewed as a possible yes vote.

Because of this role, he and other potential swing senators have been targeted by interest groups on both sides, including big name proponents like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. On Thursday, Cuomo had a private meeting on this issue with McDonald, who would not comment on their discussion or his current position on same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage supporter Matt Baumgartner remains optimistic McDonald could still change his mind from the 2009 vote, which is why he is strongly lobbying the senator. Baumgartner has repeatedly requested an audience with the senator, but has received no response, and recently took the more public step of buying space on a billboard along Interstate 787 in which he urged McDonald to “support marriage for all loving couples.”

Rev. Jason McGuire, a spokesman for the Coalition to Save Marriage in New York, a broad organization opposed to same-sex marriage, said that group is also focusing on McDonald and a few other key senators. McGuire, though, said the current political realities in the state appear to be against same-sex marriage. Noting the lack of action in both chambers on a marriage equality bill, McGuire argued that this represented a lack of support in the Legislature.

“I’m not so sure a vote will happen in the Senate,” he said.

In the Assembly, where passage is likely if it came to a floor vote, a marriage equality bill is sitting in the Judiciary Committee. That committee is scheduled to meet Monday, but the marriage equality bill is not on the agenda.

McGuire said that at this point in the session, having just finished a month-long bus tour in opposition to same-sex marriage, the final word on this issue will come from New Yorkers reaching out to their legislators. This sentiment was repeated by Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a proponent of same-sex marriage and opposing McGuire’s efforts. While still pursuing an advertising campaign, Levi said that interactions between legislators and constituents in favor of same-sex marriage are having a positive impact.

“The main wind we have at our back is the will of the people of New York,” Levi said.

Most recently, that will consisted of 58 percent of New Yorkers, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. This comes in the wake of two other polls in the past month that showed a majority of those surveyed supporting same-sex marriage.

Levi added that they’re augmenting these contacts with phone bank efforts, tens of thousands of post cards, personalized letters and one-on-one meetings with legislators. Those meetings have included an exchange with Sen. McDonald, Levi said. He wouldn’t comment on that particular exchange, but said he has been part of many meaningful and respectful meetings.

Regarding the lack of action on a marriage equality bill in either chamber, Levi wasn’t too concerned. He said he doesn’t want to force a vote they’ll lose. “I’m not interested in symbolism,” he said of the prospects of holding votes in either chamber before there are 32 affirmative votes in the Senate.

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