New York lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would have made their state the sixth to allow gay marriage, stunning advocates who suffered a similar decision by Maine voters just last month.
The New York measure needed 32 votes to pass and failed by a wider-than-expected margin, falling eight votes short in a 24-38 decision by the state Senate. The Assembly had earlier approved the bill, and Gov. David Paterson, perhaps the bill's strongest advocate, had pledged to sign it.
After the vote, Paterson called Wednesday one of his saddest days in 20 years of public service and he criticized senators who he said support gay marriage but "didn't have the intestinal fortitude to vote for it.
Senate sponsor Thomas Duane, a Manhattan Democrat and the Legislature's first openly gay member, expressed anger and disappointment. "I wasn't expecting betrayal," he said.
During debate, Sen. Ruben Diaz, a conservative minister from the Bronx, led the mostly Republican opposition.
"If you put this issue before the voters, the voters will reject it," Diaz said. "Let the people decide."
But Sen. Eric Adams, D-Brooklyn, challenged lawmakers to set aside their religious beliefs and vote for the bill. He asked them to remember that once even slavery was legal.
"When I walk through these doors, my Bible stays out," Adams said.
"That's the wrong statement," Diaz countered later. "You should carry your Bible all the time."
Others told personal stories of friends and relatives who are gay and unable to marry. Many also spoke of grandparents who survived the Holocaust and racism and said they wouldn't want to see gays subjected to such treatment.
Supporters had been hopeful they could eke out a narrow win, or a much closer vote. But afterward, they said private assurances were broken. In the end, a half-dozen Democrats opposed the measure when it was expected only two or three would vote no. While no Republicans supported the bill, most advocates expected it would attract as many as four or five GOP senators.
"This is a loss for every family in New York," said New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "This is a loss for every lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender New Yorker."
Others tried to put a positive light on it.
Immediately following the vote, gay rights advocates chanted: "Equal rights now!"
"We have a road map for 2010," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire Pride Agenda, a leading proponent of the bill. "We certainly know who are friends. We certainly go to bed tonight knowing more about where our support is, and that's a victory."
But a fight in the election year next year might be more difficult.
Gay marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. A New Hampshire law takes effect Jan. 1.
New York also doesn't allow civil unions, but has several laws, executive orders and court decisions that grant many of the rights to gays long enjoyed by married couples.
Karen Taylor of Queens stayed home to watch the legislative debate with her partner Laura Antoniou. The women, both 46, were legally married in Toronto, but hope to be able to marry in New York someday.
"It would have more meaning to both of us to be able to marry in New York," said Taylor, the national advocacy director for Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders in New York City. "This is something that should be available to us as New Yorkers."
A Marist College poll released Wednesday showed 51 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing gay marriage, while 42 percent opposed the measure. The poll questioned 805 registered voters November 12-16, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 points.
AP writers Marcus Franklin in New York and Valerie Bauman in Albany contributed to this report.