ALBANY — Protection for religious groups is the last major issue to be worked out in Wednesday’s negotiations over a bill that would legalize same-sex marriages in New York state.
The vote in the New York legislature is seen as a critical moment in the national debate over same-sex marriage.
Senate Republicans and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo plan to resume talks over legal protections sought by religious groups who fear they’ll be hit with discrimination lawsuits if they refuse to allow their facilities to be used for gay weddings. If an agreement is reached, the Republican-led Senate could decide to send the bill to the floor for a public vote, or kill.
That floor vote could be as soon as late Wednesday or Thursday.
The Democrat-led Assembly is ready to adopt the additional religious protections in the bill proposed by Cuomo.
Action was held up Tuesday as legislative leaders wrapped up a mega-deal on other issues.
The Assembly has already passed Cuomo’s bill, and the issue appears to be one vote shy from approval in the Senate, if the Republican caucus which mostly opposes gay marriage allows the measure to the floor for a vote.
The effort to legalize same-sex marriage largely stalled two years ago when the state Senate voted it down. Since then, the movement has failed in Maryland, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Advocates hope a “yes” vote in New York will jumpstart the effort.
After a Tuesday’s marathon session to pass a mega-deal involving tax, tuition and other issues, the Republican-led Senate now will be able to focus on whether to release a gay marriage bill to the floor for a vote.
“I believe the people are entitled to a vote and let the elected officials stand up and say ‘yea’ or ‘nay,'” Cuomo said. “I believe that’s how democracy works … I believe there will be a vote and I am cautiously optimistic that it will pass.”
Two Republicans clearly undecided are Sen. Stephen Saland of the Hudson Valley, one of the Senate’s most veteran and respected members; and Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, a freshman who is part of the GOP youth movement voted into office in the 2010 Republican tide nationwide.
Negotiations continue over additional religious protections that some undecided Republicans have sought, and progress appears to have been made in closed-door talks.
“We’re open to doing amendments that guarantee religious freedom in this state,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, indicating a key movement on his part.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican opposed to gay marriage, said language regarding religious protection has not been finalized.
Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. Of them, all but Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., allow at least limited religious exemptions.
New York’s legislative session had been scheduled to end Monday.