ALBANY — A coalition of gay rights advocates on Friday morning demanded that New York’s Senate break a lingering logjam and allow a vote on the legalization of gay marriage.
As senators returned to work, security precautions were increased in the Capitol as opponents and supporters of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage continue to clog the marble hallways. A vote is viewed as a critical point in the national debate over gay marriage.
“We remain steadfast in our demand that the state uphold its obligation to the people of the state of New York and allow a vote on marriage equality,” said New Yorkers United for Marriage, the coalition of leading gay rights groups created to lobby for legalizing gay marriage. The group said the Senate must act “before leaving town.”
The Senate’s Republican majority entered a closed-door session again Friday to discuss more traditional legislation before it is expected to turn to gay marriage later in the day.
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos ended the latest marathon session just before 11 p.m. Thursday for the “health of members.” Rank-and-file members of the Senate and Assembly said they don’t expect to continue the session into the weekend, in part for religious observances. That could mean that no action Friday on gay marriage could kill the bill or postpone action until next week or beyond.
After a Rules Committee meeting late into the night, all senators were directed to use back hallways to avoid the constant chanting and singing from hundreds of demonstrators who lined the hallways outside the Senate’s conference room and the majority leader’s office. On Friday, the crowds were again moved to stairwells away from those Senate offices.
Although the crowds have been respectful and there have been no arrests or violence, the throng on Thursday made the hallway hot and humid as they chanted loudly and constantly, shoulder to shoulder. Several Republican senators are in their 70s, and in years past, older lawmakers have fallen ill under the pressure of the long, tense days that come at the end of the annual legislative session.
While the nation’s gay marriage advocates and opponents watched, the Senate majority plodded along in its standard process of negotiating, printing and passing bills. The extension of the 2011 session that was scheduled to end last Monday is more the result of some groundbreaking bills such as a property tax cap and the lapsed New York City rent control bill than the gay marriage issue that has made headlines and newscasts globally.
“This isn’t stalling; it’s a complete work stoppage by the Senate Republicans,” said Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Democratic minority that supports gay marriage.
Sen. Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat, called the Republicans’ handling of gay marriage “amateurish” but forgivable if same-sex marriage is eventually passed.
“As long as we get married, we’ll be OK with the fumbling on the first date,” Parker said.
Gay rights supporters have secured legal marriage status for same-sex couples in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and the District of Columbia, and are hoping a gain in New York will give them greater momentum.
At a fundraiser in New York City Thursday night, President Barack Obama praised New York lawmakers for taking up the issue but cautioned the gay community that getting the right to marry would take time. Obama has said his position is evolving but he still supports civil unions.
“I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” the president said at the fundraiser, his first geared specifically to the gay community. Obama said progress will be slower than some people want, but he added that he was confident that there will be a day “when every single American, gay or straight or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, is free to live and love as they see fit.”
The gay marriage bill has passed in the Democrat-led Assembly, but several amendments have been proposed since then to better protect religious groups from discrimination lawsuits and to entice Republican senators to send the bill to the full Senate for a vote. The Assembly is still likely to pass any version of a gay marriage bill.
Skelos, who opposes gay marriage, has said his Republican caucus will have to meet behind closed doors to decide whether to move the bill to the floor or kill it.