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Several gay rights and human rights groups have banded together to convince enough state Senators to vote yes on a bill to legalize gay marriage in New York State this legislative session.
Ross Levi, with Empire State Pride Agenda, says advocates believe there are a number of factors in their favor, including, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s strong support for the issue as well as President Obama’s recent decisions to end the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the military and his Justice Department’s decision not to defend DOMA- the federal Defense of Marriage Act, in court. Also, opinion polls from major outlets like Siena College and Quinnipiac University show 58% of New Yorkers now back the legalization of same sex marriage. Levi calls that a "supermajority".
"All that together, I think, leads to a new political calculus," said Levi.
Governor Cuomo, who has focused on only a handful of top priorities since taking office, has made legalizing same sex marriage one of his goals. A New York Times article reports that Cuomo and his staff are coordinating the new campaign, but Levi says while his group is “pleased” with the support, they remain independent.
"This is clearly about the community itself to make sure the voice of our families are heard," said Levi.
The groups will focus on convincing key Senators, including three Democrats who voted against the bill in December of 2009, Senators Shirley Huntley, Carl Kruger and Joseph Abbaddo. They will also appeal to Senators’ constituents, as they did successfully during the State Senate race in Queens where long time GOP Seantor Frank Padavan was defeated by Democrat Tony Avella, a same sex marriage supporter.
The groups are also concentrating on some newly elected GOP Senators, including, Senators Greg Ball of the Hudson Valley and Mark Grisanti of Buffalo. Grisanti was urged to back the bill by performer Lady Gaga during a concert in Buffalo in March.
A number of New York celebrities have also agreed to appear in videos in support of same sex marriage including, most recently, actor Sam Waterston of Law and Order fame, and comedienne Joan Rivers.
Advocates are determined not to repeat the circumstances of the last Senate vote on gay marriage in December of 2009. At the urging of then- Governor David Paterson, Senate sponsors put same sex marriage up for a vote, and lost badly. Some Senators who were wavering, decided to vote no when it became evident that the measure would fail. The final vote was 38 to 24.
Ross Levi, with Pride Agenda, says even though that vote was less than a year and a half ago, things have changed rapidly.
"Legislators, just like other people, think about this issue, evolve on this issue," said Levi.
The legalization of gay marriage has already passed in the State Assembly twice.