The Senate stalemate has stymied several important pieces of legislation over the last few weeks, but Gov. David Paterson (sort of) swears at least one of the issues will be brought to the table: Gay marriage.
Paterson introduced the same-sex marriage bill in April. At the time, he passionately made the case that the legislation was a matter of civil rights, not political timing. And it doesn't appear he's going to let the current political climate in Albany get in the way. That's what he says, at least.
The governor can't force the warring Senate factions to get along, but he can – and did – call for a special session, which begins tomorrow. Last night, Paterson promised he would ensure the state votes on his gay marriage legislation before summer recess, according to The New York Times. However, he said the issue wouldn't be on the special session's agenda, which sparked skepticism among the bill's advocates.
Quick to assuage their fears, Paterson said he's always wanted to see the legislation come to the floor and he doesn't "want there to be any confusion" about that.
Unless by some miracle the Democrats and Republicans reach an 11th-hour accord, Paterson will convene the special session. The Senate has been in chaos for two weeks since two dissident Democrats – Sens. Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate – joined a Republican-backed coup to wrestle control away from their party. Then Monserrate switched back to his own side, and the chamber has since been deadlocked 31-31.
Enraged by the waste of time and money, Paterson vowed to "convene a special session every day" until senators cooperate.
“That includes Saturdays and Sundays. That includes July 4. There will be no excuses,” the governor said at a rare press conference yesterday.
Paterson, whose attempts at arbitration have been flat-out rejected by the warring parties, has called in reinforcement. He called to have State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman temporarily take charge of the Senate until things get smoothed out.
The special session will focus on timely legislation upon which local governments depend – bills involving sales tax, mayoral control over the schools or bond issuance, for example – the governor said, but he didn't mention gay marriage would be one of the urgent issues taken up, according to the Times.
Paterson did say he may convene a second special session to address more "substantive issues," but didn't elaborate on what those were, the paper reported.
Gay rights groups are irritated by the governor's inconsistency and wishy-washy responses to questions about the bill. Yesterday, Paterson said he didn't want to talk about the issue because he thought it might make things even more tense in Albany. One leading Democrat, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., is a staunch opponent of gay marriage; if he defects to the Republicans because Paterson insists on bringing the issue to the table, the Democrats would lose the majority. After the havoc of the last two weeks, Paterson likely doesn't want to be blamed should that happen.
Last night, however, Paterson opted to clarify his position on the bill.
"I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize it,” he said, according to the Times. “But I think, because of the activity that went on today, I am forced to reveal my true intentions, even though the advocates knew them already.”
Paterson added that he was "cautious about how this overt expression of wanting marriage equality on the floor is going to affect the outcome."
Gay rights groups are infuriated that the same-sex marriage legislation isn't making it on the agenda for the special session that begins tomorrow.
“Not to include marriage for same-sex couples as a priority for Tuesday’s extraordinary session is an insult to millions of gay and lesbian people and their families,” Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said in a statement.
Daniel O'Donnell, who co-sponsored the bill in the Assembly, said he had gotten every indication that the bill would make it to the floor. But just because Paterson's getting both sides to show up to work by convening the session doesn't mean they'll do anything worthwhile.
Paterson is scheduled to be the grand marshal of the New York City gay pride parade on Sunday.