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Marriage equality is the next chapter of our civil rights story.

Gay marriage supporters and opponents make last-minute cases

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Governor Cuomo's goal of achieving a property tax cap took a big step forward in recent days, but his proposal to legalize gay marriage remains mired in the state Senate. With just 11 days left in the official legislative session, both supporters and opponents are making their pitches.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

Governor Cuomo, who says a law to permit same sex marriages is one of his top three legislative priorities,  released a video message to appeal directly to New Yorkers.

“When it comes to fighting for what’s right, New Yorkers wrote the book, and  marriage equality is the next chapter of our civil rights story ,”  Cuomo says in the video.

The State Assembly has already passed a bill to legalize gay marriage twice. The bill was defeated in the State Senate in December of 2009 by a wide margin. The lobbying has focused on a handful of State Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, who are believed to be wavering on the issue, and whose yes vote could swing other Senators to approve the measure.

Ross Levi, of Empire State Pride Agenda, says momentum for the bill feels very strong right now, and in the final weeks of the session, gay and lesbian New Yorkers, their families, and supporters, will be sending “thousands” of personal messages to Senators who have voted no in the past.

“People are literally taking pictures of their families now and sending it in to their legislators with a letter so they can get a face of what this issue is really about,” said Levi, who says the issue is about “love and family”.

“We’re hoping that it has an impact,” he said.

Two of those no votes, at least, appear unlikely to change their minds. Senator Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, and Senator Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republicans spoke at an anti gay marriage rally held at the Capitol by evangelical Christian groups.

Senator Golden says there’s no question in his mind that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The crowd of 300 or so was smaller than the around 1000 people who attended a pro same sex marriage rally earlier in the month. But Senator Golden told them they could make a difference, and he labeled pro same sex marriage advocates as monied special interests that should be resisted.

“They’re afraid of money being spent against them,” Golden said, to the cheering crowd . “What they’ve got to be afraid of is the votes.

They’ve got to be afraid of each and every one of you voting against them.”

And there’s something else that wavering Republican Senators may fear even more. The head of the state’s Conservative Party, Mike Long, says he will not endorse any Senator who votes for gay marriage in the 2012 elections. Many GOP lawmakers count on the cross endorsement, and in a close election, can often rely on the conservative party’s ability to bring them winning votes.

Steve Greenberg, with Siena Research Institute, whose polls find majority support for same sex marriage, says the Conservative Party’s threat puts Senators “between a rock and a hard place”. Senate Republicans now lead the chamber by a slim 32- 30 margin, and future control of the Senate could come down to close elections in just one or two key districts.

“Certain marginal senate races may come down to just a few hundred votes, and how that Senator voted on same sex marriage, whether they support it or oppose it, could be either a plus or a minus for them in the election,” said Greenberg.

Levi, with Pride Agenda, urges Senators to look beyond the Conservative Party’s threat.

“Legislators have to be careful not to do the bidding of one political party over the will of the people,” says Levi, who says a “strong consensus” of New Yorkers back same sex marriage.

“Legislators have to be aware of that,” he said. “That’s going to be part of their political calculus.” 

He points out that on the other side, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire, has offered to help fund the re election campaigns of Senators who vote for gay marriage.

Governor Cuomo says he won’t put a same sex marriage bill out to be voted on in the Senate until he’s certain there are enough yes votes to assure its passage , setting the stage for some intense lobbying and negotiating between now and the official end of the session on June 20th.

 

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