New York’s same-sex marriage bill was in limbo as of Blade press time Thursday morning, as the legislative session was extended and lengthy negotiations took place over which religious exemptions would be included in the final language.
The state’s top political leaders said they supported several religious exceptions that had been added on Wednesday. The Democratic-led Assembly has already approved the bill but will need to approve any revised version that may come out of the Senate.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said late Wednesday that negotiations over the exemptions were going well.
“We are going back and forth on language,” the AP quoted Cuomo as saying. “But we have not hit any obstacles.” Negotiations were expected to continue Thursday, many New York-based media outlets said.
Negotiators are trying to include enough protections in the bill so that religious groups can not be sued for discrimination if the bill passes.
Though the New York Assembly, the state legislature’s lower house, is controlled by Democrats, Republicans have a slight majority (32-30) in the Senate. The measure needs only one more vote to pass the Senate after being approved by the Assembly last week. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said this week that Senate Republicans had not discussed the marriage proposal because they were sidetracked by other issues like rent control laws and caps on property tax increases. Cuomo said this week he was “cautiously optimistic” the marriage bill will pass.
The religious protections weren’t available by Blade deadline but were expected to include protection for religious groups such as adoption agencies and marriage counselors who oppose gay marriage.
Among Democrats in the Senate, 29 of the 30 say they’ll vote for gay marriage meaning only three Republican votes would be needed for it to pass the 62-seat chamber. Two have said they’ll vote for it. Two others are undecided on the record, though some reports from New York say the needed Republican votes are there.
New Yorkers United for Marriage, a coalition group of LGBT groups including Empire State Pride Agenda, Freedom to Marry, Human Rights Campaign and others, said Wednesday in a statement, it is pleased with the way things are unfolding.
“We are pleased that thoughtful discussion on marriage equality are ongoing and that progress continues to be made,” the release said. “The voices of the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who support marriage for all have clearly been heard and momentum is on our side. The people of the state of New York expect and deserve a vote on this important issue.”
Gay Manhattan resident Lou Weiss, who wed his partner Danny Martin in Canada in 2005, said Wednesday he’s optimistic.
“It’s moved away from the sinning and the man-and-woman argument to the argument of how can we protect the church from these evil gays,” Weiss said. “That’s a major shift. We’re not discussing where it’s going but a minute portion of it. These religious exemptions have been in the bill for years. It should be clear we’re talking about civil ceremonies. They want a promise they won’t get sued. Well anybody can sue anybody. Nobody can give them a guarantee of that.”
Weiss said he’s embarrassed his city, usually a leader on progressive issues, is lagging behind on marriage, especially since the Stonewall riots happened there.
“I have friends say, ‘Oh, we thought New York would be the first to get it,’ but instead we’ll be number seven. We’ve had great domestic partner benefits for years, but I’m disappointed that it’s taken this long and that we’ll be number seven and not in our usual first place. It’s easy to forget, it’s not all that liberal outside of Manhattan.”
Weiss predicts it will pass in either this session or next. If it does, he and Martin plan to reaffirm their vows.
Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and D.C. allow gay marriage. Of them, all but Massachusetts and D.C. allow at least limited religious exemptions.
New York’s legislative session had been scheduled to end Monday.