Republicans in the New York Senate agreed today to allow a full vote on legalizing same-gender marriage, setting the stage for a possible breakthrough victory for the same-gender-rights movement in the state where it got its start.
The bill was sent to the floor just after 5:30 p.m. A vote should follow. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said the bill will brought up for an “up or down vote.”
It will be a “vote of conscience for every member of this Senate,” Skelos added.
If the full Senate approves it, the nation’s third-most populous state will join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C., in allowing same-gender couples to wed.
Protesters have crowded the halls of the state Capitol for days, hoping and praying for and against the same-gender marriage bill. They had been wondering if the issue would ever be brought to a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Now, sources say that the bill was put in position to be brought to the floor because a new round of protections for religious institutions had been secured.
The expected vote count as of this afternoon was 31-31.
Senate leaders met behind closed doors for hours today. Some members reportedly didn’t want to see the politically charged issue drag on into the weekend and against the same-gender pride parade on Sunday and religious services throughout the state, which would give religious leaders opposed to same-gender marriage another opportunity to sermonize against it.
While the Senate is still behind closed doors, Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, the sponsor of the same-gender marriage bill in the lower House, said new language to protect religious institutions has been agreed to by both houses and the governor. He said the Assembly will approve that part of the bill Friday night.
Opponents of the measure have vowed to vote against Republicans who support the measure. Thursday, many at the Capitol chanted “If you vote yes, we will vote you out.”
Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, a Broome County Republican, said GOP senators don’t want to further stretch the 2011 session, which was supposed to have ended Monday. He said that if the caucus sends the same-gender marriage bill out, it could be voted today.
Senate Democrats said the Republicans are mismanaging important bills, including same-gender marriage.
“Where is marriage?” asked Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan. “Bring it to the floor. Conventional wisdom is that if it comes to the floor, it will pass. Why not bring it to the floor? It’s outrageous.”
“Instead, we were discussing corn and onions most of the week,” she said, referring to a debate over naming the state vegetable.
Senator Adriano Espaillat, another Democrat from Manhattan, noted the fervent demonstrators waiting for a vote.
“We should stop playing with peoples’ lives,” Espaillat said. “I have been here 14 years. I haven’t seen this level of passion and anxiety … it’s very scary right now.”
Lawmakers have been focused on amendments that would protect religious groups from discrimination lawsuits in the event that they do not want to perform same-gender marriage ceremonies.
Thursday’s meetings went late into the evening, wrapping up at 11 p.m. Republican Sen. Greg Ball, who said he will vote against the measure, nonetheless said it will likely pass if it comes to a full Senate vote.
New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly was asked if he was at all concerned about the possibility of pop-up demonstrations.
“You know, it is what it is. We’re a big police force. We’re able to react to those sorts of things. It’s something that we have to do,” he says.
Kelly said the department has deployed additional resources where the parade ends on Christopher Street, as he put it, because that event goes well into the night and the celebration goes into Monday morning.