Old-time, backroom politics faced down hundreds of chanting protesters from each side of the highly charged gay marriage debate in New York on Monday as the issue stalled again over whether religious groups could be protected from discrimination charges under a same-sex marriage law.
And Albany's notoriously entrenched politics won, for now.
After a three-hour conference behind closed doors, while groups from each side waited in a stifling hot hallway, Senate Republicans emerged without comment. A vote within the conference to even move the bill to the floor for final legislative approval was pushed to at least Tuesday as private negotiations continue between Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who made same-sex marriage a major initiative.
New York's vote is pivotal in the national question over same-sex marriage, an effort that largely stalled in the same room two years ago when the Senate voted it down. Since then, efforts have failed in New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maryland. Advocates hope a "yes" vote in the nation's third-most populous state will jumpstart the effort.
Skelos worries a federal judge could strike down flimsy religious protections in the current proposal if a religious group, such as the Knights of Columbus, is sued for discrimination for refusing to provide its hall for a gay wedding. Skelos wants protections that will allow a religious group to observe its principles without conflicting with a gay marriage law.
"I think that's critically important," Skelos said.
Same-sex marriage has entered the uncertainty of the final days of the session in Albany, where horse trading over unrelated issues brokered in private is the norm, and where measures can be weakened or dropped, followed by a fast exit. In this case, gay marriage is now tied to resuming and possibly strengthening the New York City rent control law sought by Democrats and a proposed cap on property taxes statewide, pushed by Cuomo and Republicans.
It was a disappointment for both sides of the gay marriage issue, some of whom had expected a decision a week ago.
The day's uncommon, but peaceful demonstrations Monday included a group saying the Rosary in the nearby Capitol park. Inside the building's marble halls, opponents chanted "God says no!" while supporters countered with "God is love!" They sang hymns such as "Victory is Mine" and songs like "God Bless America" and "This Little Light of Mine."
"If this passes, we will become Sodom and Gomorrah," said 80-year-old Ginny Winn, of Delmar in Albany County.
"It's against God, it's against the Holy Torah. It will have a terrible influence on children and it will destroy all humanity," said Rabbi Yoel Loeb of Brooklyn.
The pro-gay marriage side was just as ardent, comparing gay marriage to differences among religions over divorce, celibacy for clergy, and birth control.
"All of our faith traditions teach that all people are children of God, deserving of love, dignity and equal protection under the law," said the Rev. Tom Goodhue, president of the Long Island Council of Churches. He was working with the New Yorkers United for Marriage, an advocacy group allied with Cuomo. "The governor's bill specifically provides broad protection for religious freedom."
Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx minister who has led the opposition, said he now considers the legalization of same-sex marriage inevitable in New York, but he's unsure how the Senate will vote. He said Cuomo is exerting unprecedented pressure to get Republicans to approve his bill.
State troopers were called to the Senate chamber floor as the two groups started to merge and talk with each other, but there was no escalation in the jammed hallways that turned stifling hot from the number of people and TV cameras. Most were respectful and kept to their own groups.
"This is not about religion, this is about civil rights," said Sharon Baum of New York City said.
When Winn, a great-grandmother, interrupted Baum and said she's been married for decades. Baum offered a sincere "Mazel tov!" which is Hebrew for congratulations.
Susan Lerner of the good-government group Common Cause said the level of professional and grass roots lobbying appears unmatched in New York since the abortion and reproductive rights battles of the 1970s.
Some religious leaders also worry about the discrimination question.
"We certainly have no hatred for anyone who follows this lifestyle," said Pastor William Mayhew of Faith Bible Chapel in Millerton. "The difference is we will be forced in our churches, in our businesses, all of our life practices, to acknowledge something which we strongly, morally disagree."
"I've never heard this kind of noise," said Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, a Broome County Republican. He said, however, that rather than influencing senators, "It's almost an aggravation.
"For instance, I would like to go down and get a sandwich during our break here, and I don't know how I'm going to get down to the Capitol deli to get a sandwich ... you get caught out in the hallway and certainly some of the people are reasonable, and some of the people are downright violent."
Former New York Giants player David Tyree was among the celebrities on both sides of the issue. He said in Albany on Monday that God may have given him the ability to make his stunning, one-handed catch to help the Giants win the Super Bowl in 2007 so he would have a platform to oppose gay marriage today.
"I am not a political person, but gay marriage isn't a political issue," he said. "This not about right and left, but about right and wrong."
The Assembly has already passed the measure. Negotiations are expected to continue Tuesday.
Among the states that allow gay marriage, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa have religious exemptions.