Legalizing gay marriage in New York is within two votes of those needed for passage Monday as Gov. Andrew Cuomo rallied most Democrats and coaxed one Republican vote in the Senate.
Twenty-nine of 30 Democrats in the state Senate were joined by Republican Sen. James Alesi of Monroe County to support a gay marriage bill to be introduced in the last five days of the legislative session.
That brings the estimated support to 30 votes for the measure in the 62-seat chamber, two votes shy of passage. The Democrat-led Assembly and the Democratic governor already strongly support the measure, which was defeated in 2009.
Alesi, however, said he knew of no Republican colleagues who will join him and received no guarantee the measure will pass. Republican senators said they see no change in votes for the measure expected to be discussed in closed-door session Tuesday or Wednesday.
Whether Monday's well-orchestrated announcement built momentum or was political cover for Democrats whose 2009 defeated vote hurt the national effort will be played out in the next few days in Albany.
An advocacy group organized under Cuomo decided Monday afternoon to authorize the Democrat to submit the bill to the Legislature as early as Monday night. Cuomo said that bill will be about the same as the one defeated two years ago, but specific details of the latest bill weren't immediately released.
The bill is expected to pass the Democrat-led Assembly easily, as similar measures have in past years. The bill would then have to be introduced in the Republican-led Senate and wend its way through committee, with negotiation of any changes, in time for a vote by June 20, the scheduled end of session.
"Two years ago, I voted against a marriage equality bill, and it was a very anguishing vote for me," Alesi said, adding that he has since apologized to advocates for his vote. "I believe that if you live in America and you expect equality and freedom for yourself that you should extend it to other people."
He still hasn't seen the bill, which he will support as long as it "comes out in a way that doesn't force churches to do something that the churches don't want to do," Alesi said.
Republicans who support same-sex marriage will lose the often critical endorsement of the state Conservative Party, according to chairman Michael Long.
Cuomo, long a supporter of same-sex marriage, called the issue "a matter of principal, not politics." He said he expects that Republicans will support the bill if it gets to the floor. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said Republicans in conference will "discuss all the dynamics."
Cuomo pressured GOP lawmakers by noting polls that showed nearly 60 percent of New Yorkers support same-sex marriage, though one poll recently showed a slight waning of support.
Two of the three Democrats who threw their support behind gay marriage said they did so because the majority of their voters now support the measure. Queens Sens. Joseph Addabbo Jr. and Shirley Huntley said they conducted polls to determine how their constituents felt about the issue.
The third Democrat, Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, said bill sponsor Sen. Thomas Duane helped explain that it was a question "between right and wrong."
"What we are about to do is to redefine what an American family is, and that's a good thing," said Kruger, who is facing charges in what federal prosecutors call a "broad-based bribery racket." The Senate Democrats stripped him of his powerful Finance Committee chairmanship as a result of the accusation. He has said he's eager to fight the charges.
"We are at the doorstep of passing marriage equality to ensure human rights are inalienable rights for all New Yorkers," said Senate Democratic leader John Sampson of Brooklyn, who delivered the three additional votes in his conference. "And while I am not a prophet, I am an eternal optimist — and am confident that we will get the rest of the way."
Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx minister, said Monday that he remains opposed to the bill. He said it's his calling to work with Republican senators to fight it.