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Gov Cuomo delivering his State of the State address.
Gov Cuomo delivering his State of the State address.

Cuomo in step with Dems on social issues

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Much of the focus in the first two weeks of Governor Andrew Cuomo's term has been on the state's financial crisis, and the new governor's fiscally conservative prescriptions: a public employee wage freeze, spending cuts, a property tax cap.

Cuomo, a Democrat, is more in step with his party when it comes to social issues. Karen DeWitt explains.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo's declaration in his State of the State speech that he supports passage of a gay marriage bill this year in New York drew the second biggest round of applause in the entire speech.
"We believe in justice for all, then let's pass marriage equality this year once and for all," said Cuomo, to cheers.

Ross Levi, with the gay rights group Empire State Pride Agenda, says he thinks "it's very significant" that Cuomo featured the issue in his speech. He says Cuomo also reauthorized an executive order that prohibits discrimination against transgendered people in state employent, and appointed an African American, openly gay man, Alphonso David, as Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights.

The measure to legalize same sex marriage has been approved in the State Assembly, but it failed in the State Senate when it was put on the floor in December of 2009.  Democratic leaders, who controlled the Senate then, favored the bill but could not muster enough yes votes. Now, Republicans are back in charge.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has said while he's personally against gay marriage, he'll seek to bring the bill to the floor later in the session.  In an interview, Skelos said he'll first discuss the matter with the other 31 GOP Senate members.

"Certainly I would be supportive of it coming out for a vote," said Skelos. "But that's going to be a conference decision."

Levi, with Pride Agenda, says his group will lobby Senators, by bringing ordinary New Yorkers to the Capitol in the coming weeks to tell their stories.

"Loving, committed couples talking about how they're harmed by not having access to marriage," said Levi, who said the group would also include "business leaders, talking about how New York stands to gain $135 million dollars" in increased business, by passing marriage equality.

Another issue that many Democrats, and New Yorkers, support is access to abortion rights, though there are differences of opinion on what exactly that means.

Cuomo did not mention the topic in his State of the State speech, but in an accompanying news release, he outlined  his support for a measure called the Reproductive Health Act, which would guarantee a woman's right to have an abortion in New York, even if the federal Roe v Wade decision were overturned. The legislation was first proposed by former Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Tracey Brooks, with Family Planning Advocates, the lobbying arm of the state's Planned Parenthoods, is pleased that the measure was at least mentioned in the written version of Cuomo's State of the State message.

"The bill is important to ensure that the health care delivery we have today, and the health care we rely on, will always be there, regardless of what happens on the national level," Brooks said.

Cuomo did not speak at an annual rally held by Planned Parenthood advocates at the Capitol.
In 1970, New York was one of the first states in the nation to legalize abortion, but advocates say that, over 40 years later, the law is antiquated and outdated, and needs to be changed.

The new bill has been introduced in the State Assembly, but will there's more resistance to it in the State Senate. Senate Leader Skelos says he doesn't think the measure is even necessary.

"If anybody believes Roe versus Wade is going to be overturned, they're nuts," said Skelos.

The state's Catholic Conference is against the measure, calling it extreme. Spokeswoman Kathy Gallagher says the new version would permit unfettered access to abortion, with no restrictions, which goes even further than provisions under Roe v Wade.  Under the 1970 statute, abortions cannot be performed in the third trimester of pregnancy unless the life of the mother is endangered. The new legislation would also include the health of the mother as a legitimate reason for abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, and Gallagher says, that could be interpreted too broadly.

"That health exception really means anything goes," said Gallagher. "If you look at the public opinion polls, people don't really want that."

Gallagher says the majority of the public believes abortion should be available in the first trimester of pregnancy.

"But after that, people get squeamish," she said.
Senate Leader Skelos says he would only support changes to the state¿s abortion law if it were strengthened to include parental notification requirements, and an end to a late term abortion procedure that opponents call "partial birth" abortion.

Brooks, with Family Planning Advocates, says some Republican Senators do favor the bill guaranteeing abortion rights in almost all instances, and she says her group will work now to convince other Senators.  

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