The paralyzing fight for control of the state Senate has sidelined the movement for same-sex marriage indefinitely.
The measure’s prime Democratic sponsors, Sen. Thomas Duane and Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell of New York City, say the issue is too important to push during the political turmoil in a Senate split 31-31. Gov. David Paterson and senators question the validity of the sessions in which neither side will allow the other a 32-senator quorum needed to vote.
“I would be very resistant to the Senate voting on it until it was crystal clear the vote was legal and our action would ultimately and unquestionably make it law in New York state,” Duane said. “As I’ve said, I think it’s a terrible idea to gamble with our civil rights.”
“The Senate — as it’s currently operating — would prevent it from being enacted,” O’Donnell said. “How does that help anybody?”
Paterson, who strongly supports a same-sex marriage law, removed same-sex marriage Thursday from his agenda items in the extraordinary session he has called.
“We expect that marriage will be at the top of the agenda when the stalemate is over and the Senate resumes its business,” said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of same-sex rights group the Empire State Pride Agenda. “The bill must be handled respectfully and given its due debate so that senators can vote their conscience.”
Supportive politicians and activists remain confident the bill will gain final legislative approval in the Senate.
“I am disappointed, I’m sad. However, I still strongly believe that marriage equality in New York state is inevitable,” Duane said.
The warring Senate factions have been paralyzed since a June 8 coup by a Republican-dominated coalition over the Democratic conference.
On Thursday, the Senate’s Democratic conference of 31 senators and the coalition each held sessions for a total of less than five minutes. It was a slap in the face for Paterson, who threatened to withhold their $160 daily expenses for every day they are in Albany and will try to dock their pay. They are paid a minimum of $79,500 a year before leadership stipends.
Both sides say they’re working on a deal to share power — if only temporarily — to extend critical laws and authorize local government taxes that face end-of-the-month deadlines. They had wanted to go home to negotiate over the weekend and return Monday in a single, working session, but Paterson said they could provide no proof they are close to a deal.
That “made me think they are more concerned about how they spend their weekend than how the people of New York spend the period after July 1 when the legislation doesn’t pass and laws expire exposing counties and municipalities to grave risk,” Paterson said.
“I think we’re all hostages,” said Sen. Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat who called Paterson incompetent.
Democratic conference leader John Sampson, of Brooklyn, and coalition leader Sen. Pedro Espada, of the Bronx, insisted a power-sharing agreement is in the works.
“Now we’ve adopted a new approach,” said Espada, the Senate president elected by the coalition. “There is a reliance now on mutual respect and on really looking beyond ourselves to saving this institution and the embarrassment that has been brought to all of us.”
“We’re working,” Sampson said in an interview. “The deadline is looming.”