Some in New York worry gay marriage vote will not happen

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2011 4:29 PM
Some in New York worry gay marriage vote will not happen

By Dan Wiessner

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - Some lawmakers backing same-sex marriage in New York began voicing doubts on Friday whether a bill to legalize gay nuptials would come up for a vote before the state legislature breaks for summer recess.

New York could become the sixth and most populous state to allow gay marriage if the marriage equality bill introduced by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is approved by the Senate. Only one more Republican senator needs to support the bill for it to pass.

Passage would be a key gay rights victory and boost the national profile of the cause ahead of 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

But the fate of the proposal hinges on three undecided Republican senators who have voiced concerns over what they say are weak legal protections for religious groups and individuals who oppose gay marriage.

New York lawmakers were due to break for a summer recess last Monday but Cuomo asked them to remain to deal with outstanding bills. Negotiations on some of those, including rent control laws and a cap on property taxes, stalled the gay marriage issue.

Sen. Jim Alesi of Rochester, the first of two Republican senators who have so far backed same-sex marriage, told reporters on Friday that momentum could be waning as the session dragged on.

"I'm concerned," Alesi said.

But, he said: "This is a democratic process. If a bill gets to the floor or not, that's part of the blueprint."

A Democratic senator, who did not want to be identified, blamed the delay on Republicans who do not want it to pass.

"Every hour that goes by means there's less of a chance," the senator said, adding "If it comes to the floor, it will pass."

If the measure does not come up for a vote before the summer break, legislators could revisit it in a special session later this year.

While only one Senate Republican vote is needed, most observers say at least two or three additional votes are necessary to provide political cover, as same-sex marriage is a sensitive issue for conservative politicians.

On Thursday Sen. Greg Ball, a Hudson Valley Republican, announced that he would vote against the marriage bill after weeks of being considered a key swing vote. He said the bill did not provide sufficient religious protections.

Ball's announcement left only three undecided senators.

"We are hopeful and resolute, and we still very much feel the momentum," said Ross Levi, head of gay-rights group Empire State Pride Agenda, citing recent polls that showed public support for gay marriage in New York as high as 58 percent.

In his most recent public comments, Cuomo on Wednesday night told reporters he remained "cautiously optimistic" the bill would pass.

(Editing by Michelle Nichols, Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)