Paterson: Same-Sex Marriage Bill Vote Within Weeks

If New York legalizes same-sex marriage, it would be the seventh state to do so, with others including New Jersey expected to act soon

By MICHAEL GORMLEY
|  Wednesday, Oct 21, 2009  |  Updated 11:54 PM EDT
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Paterson: Same-Sex Marriage Bill Vote Within Weeks

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New York Governor David Paterson attends the annual Columbus Day Parade

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ALBANY -- Gov. David Paterson said Wednesday he wants to put a bill to legalize same-sex marriage to a vote during a special session within weeks.

The governor said the measure would be part of unfinished business from the regular session that ended this summer in a tumultuous coup in the Senate, later undone, after the Assembly approved its version of the measure.

"We have a number of issues that were not resolved," Paterson told reporters, confirming a Daily News account. "I don't see any reason not to address them."

Paterson said he could call for a special session within weeks, primarily to address a $3 billion budget deficit.

He had promised to bring the issue to a vote in the Legislature regardless of whether its passage was guaranteed. He called same-sex marriage a civil right that requires the same kind of persistence in the face of opposition as other civil rights struggles.

Supporters have quietly been trying to build a coalition of 32 senators needed to pass a bill in the House with a 32-30 Democratic majority. The main sponsor, Sen. Thomas Duane, a Manhattan Democrat who is gay, declined comment Wednesday.

Some Democrats have said they oppose the measure on religious grounds. But supporters say they are counting on at least a few moderate Republicans to vote for the bill if Democrats allow it to reach the floor.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, who opposes the bill, said there will be no GOP position on the measure and Republicans are free to vote for it. The GOP has voted in a bloc against several measures since January, frustrating the Democratic majority.

Others forces are also at play.

If New York legalizes same-sex marriage, it would be the seventh state to do so, with others including New Jersey expected to act soon. That adds pressure on Democrats sponsoring the bill who have noted in floor debates that the state prides itself for being first in social change.

In addition, one of the most vocal opponents, Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz, stayed with the Democratic conference after the November elections because he said he was assured by then Democratic Senate leader Malcolm Smith that a gay marriage bill wouldn't reach the Senate floor. Smith is no longer the sole leader of the conference because a vote this summer during a Republican-led coup made Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn the leader.

Further, Diaz on Tuesday angered several of his Democratic colleagues when Diaz called them racists for calling for the resignation of another one-time Democratic dissident, Sen. Hiram Monserrate of Queens. Monserrate faces disciplinary action by the Senate after he was convicted of misdemeanor assault involving his girlfriend.

One of the state's leading advocacy groups for gay rights, the Empire State Pride Agenda, praises Paterson for his continuing role in trying to pass the measure.

"I personally know from my conversations with him he wants New York to once again be a leader in providing equality for all its citizens," the group's executive director, Alan Van Capelle, said in a statement.

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