Fate of New York gay marriage bill hinges on Republicans

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 17, 2011 1:18 PM
Fate of New York gay marriage bill hinges on Republicans

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York state's Republican senators were huddled on Friday to discuss a bill to legalize same sex marriage with the fate of the measure depending on one more Republican vote.

New York could become the sixth state to allow gay marriage if a marriage equality bill introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is passed by the Senate.

The stakes are high because New York would become the most populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage approved by lawmakers, handing the gay rights movement a huge victory.

But with lawmakers set to break for summer recess on Monday, and with Republicans in the majority in the state Senate, it remained unclear if the measure would even be allowed to come to a vote.

Two Republican senators have already publicly said they will back the proposal, while one Democrat senator opposes it -- leaving New York's 62-member Senate split.

Republican senators were discussing the gay marriage bill and other issues on Friday. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said that there was still concern among Republicans over the "unintended consequences" of the religious exemptions.

The bill does not compel any member of the clergy to conduct same-sex marriages, but some Republican lawmakers are concerned the legal protection is not strong enough.

The state-by-state battle over gay marriage has become a contentious U.S. social issue ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. Five states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage and four states have civil unions.

New York's Democrat-dominated Assembly voted 80 to 63 in favor of the bill on Wednesday and if it is passed by the senate, New York would become the most populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage approved by lawmakers.

In California a judge last year overturned a ban on gay marriage, but no weddings can take place while the decision is being appealed. It could set national policy if the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, and Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey approved civil unions. But gay marriage is specifically banned in 39 states.

The first legal same-sex marriages in the United States took place in Massachusetts in 2004.

A recent Siena poll found 58 percent of New Yorkers support same-sex marriage.

If the bill passes, same-sex couples could start marrying in New York 30 days later.

(Reporting by Dan Wiessner. writing by Michelle Nichols, editing by Greg McCune)