ALBANY — Supporters of legalizing gay marriage in New York who hoped for quick approval were disappointed Wednesday when Republican senators extended their private debate into Thursday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has shepherded the bill, issued a “message of necessity” so the contentious measure could be voted on on Wednesday. The governor’s order suspends the three-day waiting period required to allow public review of the bill he submitted a day earlier.
The Democrat-led Assembly was poised Wednesday to pass the bill, as expected. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s chamber has passed three similar bills in the last two years.
In the Senate, Republican senators wouldn’t say much about their discussion in a four-hour caucus behind closed doors. But those who did said their concerns about protecting religious groups through so-called “carve-outs” haven’t been satisfied.
“The carve-outs were minimal and there is still a real need for serious, comprehensive religious carve-outs,” said Republican Sen. Greg Ball, representing Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties.
Cuomo’s bill already protects clergy and religious groups from having to participate in gay marriages. But Ball’s proposed exceptions would also protect individuals, businesses and nonprofit groups opposed to gay marriage from being charged with discrimination for refusing to provide their property or services to be used in a same-sex wedding.
“No one wants to be in the position where we shut down Catholic adoption agencies or religious organizations and the governor has got to, in my opinion, pay real attention to that possibility,” Ball said.
No such negotiations appear under way.
The bill is similar to the one defeated in 2009 in an effort led by Senate Republicans and some Democrats, dealing a blow to the national legalization movement.
“I think one of the hallmark principles of our country is respect for faiths, for religion in this country,” said Rep. Sen. Andrew Lanza of Staten Island. “I think there are issues outstanding in this legislation with respect to that issue.”
Lanza wouldn’t say if the conference was likely to send the bill to a floor for a vote, although Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has said he hoped it would.
“The issue has not been resolved,” said Skelos, a Long Island Republican who is opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage.
An unofficial head count leaves the issue at a 31-31 tie in the Senate, where Republicans have a 32-30 majority. Republican Sen. Roy McDonald of Saratoga and Rensselaer counties and James Alesi of Monroe County said this week they would support gay marriage, after voting against it in 2009.
Twenty-nine of 30 Democratic senators also committed to the measure and at least two Republican senators — Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie and Mark Grisanti of Erie and Niagara counties — say they are undecided.
A tie in the 62-seat Senate would be a defeat, and some advocates including Cuomo have said they don’t want the measure brought to the floor only to see it lose again. Democrats, however, could test the power of the lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy of Rochester, to break a tie. But that rule is vague, saying it can only be used for “procedural” votes, and would likely be challenged in the courts.
Veteran GOP Sen. Hugh Farley of Schenectady County opposes gay marriage but says the conference is open to senators supporting the bill.
“I have to do what I think is right, and they have to do what they think is right,” Farley said after the unusually lengthy conference Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a tight one, it’s going to be close,” said the Rev. Duane Motley, a leader of a conservative Christian group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms lobbying against same-sex marriage.