Governor Cuomo formally introduced same-sex marriage legislation today, a key victory for activists pushing for a vote in the state Senate regardless of any assurance of passage. And another Republican senator, Roy McDonald, from the Capital Region, broke ranks and announced support, giving the Marriage Equality Act 31 of the 32 votes needed for passage, according to current estimates as of late Tuesday afternoon.
The Times says three other GOP senators predicted that the bill will pass, making New York the biggest state to legalize gay marriage.
Cuomo’s bill does give ground to religious interests, allowing private groups such as the Knights of Columbus to not have to rent out space for same-sex wedding ceremonies.
The day was a flurry of activity on the issue. At a press conference at City Hall, Reverend Duane Motley, lobbyist for the anti-gay New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, spoke at length about how justices of the peace and town clerks need to be exempted from granting same-sex marriage licenses.
At City Hall, Motley excoriated the group of about 100 New York City pastors for losing four votes over the weekend. He was joined by Bishop Harry Jackson, who traveled all the way from D.C. (and who had gotten his ass handed to him when he debated Lt. Dan Choi on TV last year). In nearby City Hall Park, an interfaith group of about 30 ministers chanted and sang in support of same-sex marriage. Up in Albany, Republican Senate leaders like Dean Skelos, who opposes the bill but has said he will allow it to be voted on, face severe pressure from Conservative Party chair Michael Long, who has vowed to withhold support of any senator who votes for the bill.
Regarding the touchy issue of religion and the state, Cuomo’s announcement says: “This bill grants equal access to the government-created legal institution of civil marriage while leaving the religious institution of marriage to its own separate and fully autonomous sphere. The bill also guarantees that religious institutions and benevolent organizations such as the Knights of Columbus remain free to choose who may use their facilities for marriage ceremonies and celebrations or to whom they provide religious services, consistent with their religious principles.”