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New York Gov. David Paterson has said that a gay marriage bill is a top goal since taking office. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
Gov. David Paterson said Thursday that he expects to sign a same-sex marriage bill into law in the coming weeks.
Paterson said he believes the state Senate to give the measure final legislative approval in weeks ahead and then he will sign it, making New York the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. Paterson can't force the Senate to take up the bill and admitted to reporters he can't guarantee its approval, but he says he's now confident it will pass, as advocates and sponsors of the bill in Albany have been quietly working to build support.
The bill was blocked by a summer coup in the Senate in the final days of the regular session in June. The Democrat-led Assembly has already passed the measure.
Paterson's statements Thursday came at the fall dinner in Manhattan of the influential gay rights group Empire State Pride Agenda. He said New York will have marriage equality "as a result of a law we will pass in the New York Senate, already passed in the Assembly, and will be signed by the governor, just in the next few weeks.''
The 1,200 people at the dinner cheered Paterson's remarks.
Paterson has long said that passing a gay marriage bill is one of his top priorities while in office.
"No longer in New York'' will same-sex couples have to worry about insurance coverage, being allowed to visit each other hospitals, or whether they will be guaranteed the same rights as other married couples under law, he said.
Paterson said he's spoken to advocates lobbying senators and "they believe if I put the bill on the calendar, it will pass. ... I believe it will pass.''
In the spring, advocates had sought to withdraw the bill from the Senate agenda when it appeared it would be defeated.
More than a year ago, Paterson had framed the debate as a civil right long denied. But divisions among Senate Democrats earlier this year made approval unlikely after a few Democrats in the 32-30 majority objected to the bill on religious grounds.
Now, however, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County says GOP senators won't be asked to vote against the measure in a bloc and are free to vote for the bill.
A leading advocate and bill sponsor, Sen. Thomas Duane of Manhattan, who is gay, has declined to comment on the issue this week. Senate Democratic majority spokesman Austin Shafran said there has been no head count of votes on the issue.
To the crowd, Paterson joked that if anyone in a same-sex relationship had put off conversations about marriage because it wasn't legal, "you'd better leave now because marriage equality is coming to New York City.''
Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont, and will start in New Hampshire in January. A referendum in Maine on Nov. 3 will determine the fate of a same-sex marriage bill passed by the Legislature in May.
Several other states offer civil unions, domestic partnerships or other arrangements that provide marriage-like rights to same-sex couples, including California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin.