The bill had breezed through the Assembly 86-51 the previous night and Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson had pledged to sign it, putting all eyes on the Senate, where Democrats have a two-vote majority. But after an impassioned two-hour debate that even saw a few legislators shed tears, the bill fell far short of the required 32 votes, preventing the nation's third most populous state from redefining marriage.
It is the third significant recent defeat in the Northeast for "gay marriage" supporters, who on Election Day saw Maine vote to prohibit such relationships and New Jersey replace a governor who supports "gay marriage" with one who opposes it. The defeat could have ramifications in New Jersey, where homosexual activists are pushing for a vote on a bill there before lame duck Gov. Jon Corzine leaves office Jan. 19.
Unlike Maine, California and other states, New York doesn't allow citizen-driven initiatives, so if the bill had become law, it likely would have stood.
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage -- which ran ads opposing the bill -- said the outcome is a blow to those who argue "gay marriage" nationwide is inevitable.
"This great victory will reverberate up and down America, putting the fear of God -- and the American voter -- into the hearts of weak-kneed and weak-willed politicians everywhere," Brown said.
Austin R. Nimmocks, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, agreed. ADF is a Christian legal group that works to defend traditional marriage laws.
"What it shows is that it's not inevitable," Nimmocks told Baptist Press. "We've seen citizens in 31 out of 31 states vote to uphold marriage as one man and one woman. We've seen the New York legislature vote to uphold marriage as one man and one woman, and we've seen it from the West Coast to the East Coast, from the North to the South. It's very encouraging to know that there's so much that unifies us in this country all across this nation, and marriage is one of those big things."
Patterson called it "a setback." Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, said, "I was shocked" by the vote outcome and margin, the Albany Times-Union newspaper reported.
The bill would have changed the law so that it recognized marriages "regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex." The bill also would have made the terms "husband" and "wife" throughout New York law gender neutral.
Supporters of the bill had pushed for a vote since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2008 and had expressed optimism heading into Wednesday that the bill would pass. That optimism seemed warranted during floor debate, when some 17 senators speak in favor of the bill and only one senator -- Democrat Ruben Diaz Sr. -- speak in opposition. A Pentecostal minister from the Bronx, Diaz has been the most vocal opponent from the start. When he learned Tuesday the vote was set to take place, he went to his office to pray.
"In 31 states ... the people have gotten the opportunity to vote on this issue," Diaz said on the floor. "The people have rejected it.... I say, let the people decide.... You put this issue before the voters in a referendum and the voters will reject it."
Diaz then proceeded to read a list of the 31 states in alphabetical order, beginning with Alabama.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Thomas K. Duane -- an openly homosexual man -- closed discussion on the bill.
"This legislation would merely provide me and tens of thousands of other New Yorkers equal rights in New York State," Duane said. "It would provide me with the exact same rights that you have, madam president, and that each and every member of the New York state Senate presently has."
Diaz, the second speaker during the debate, set the tone early for the discussion about religion. "Gay marriage," he said, "is not only opposed by us evangelicals.
"All the major religions in the world also oppose it," Diaz, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said. "The Jewish religion opposes it. The Muslim religion opposes it. The Catholic religion opposes it."
No one else, though, defended a traditional view of the Bible. Senate President Malcolm Smith said "the Bible does not say same-sex marriage is wrong." Sen. Velmanette Montgomery told her colleagues that because her faith tradition believes that living together before marriage is sin, the chamber should legalize relationships for homosexuals because "we do not want them to live in sin." Sen. Eric Adams said religion was important to him but that "when I enter these doors, my Bible stays out." Smith, Montgomery and Adams are all Democrats.
Diaz got in the last word on religion, telling Adams, "The Bible should never be left out. You should carry your Bible all the time."
Diaz then addressed Smith: "Sen. Malcolm Smith tried to lecture us on the Bible. I could give you some passages from the Bible, but ... more important than that is to keep your word." Diaz was referencing a promise he said was made months ago by Smith -- presumably a pledge not to bring the bill to the floor. In words that could cause animosity among the Democratic caucus, Diaz said, "To not comply with what you promised is wrong. It's wrong. It's not leadership. It's treason."
Further distancing himself from the Senate's top Democrats, Diaz called the bill "a Democratic agenda" being "pushed by a Democratic governor" and Democratic leadership. The bill, he noted, never received a vote with the GOP in charge. Knowing that the bill required the votes of a few Republicans to pass -- at least two to three Democrats had publicly stated their opposition -- Diaz focused on his GOP colleagues, telling them "it has been the Republican Party ... and their family values" and "their moral values" that "for years and years has kept these values" throughout the nation "alive."
"But now they're being asked to throw away their values," he said. "... Members of the Republican Party, remember your roots. Remember your values.... Join me, a Democrat ... in saying no to this legislation."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
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