Friday, June 24, 2011

Marriage Equality Act Will Pass In New York; IF It's Ever Brought To a Floor Vote

This is where things stand with the Marriage Equality Act (gay marriage) proposal in New York. Everyone recognizes that if the bill is brought to a floor vote in the State Senate, it would pass - and Gov. Andrew Cuomo would sign it into law, making New York the sixth (and by far the most important) state to do so.

The problem is that it's still mired in procedural actions and haggling over various terms, and it's stuck with other proposals including a property tax cap and mandate relief that the Legislature has yet to address. The Senate Republicans are caught between a rock and hard place:
As soon as today, the New York Senate’s majority party could decide whether to duck out of Albany without voting on same-sex marriage or risk allowing a vote.

If there’s a vote, all it would take is one more Republican to vote yes, and same-sex marriage will become legal — something sure to anger the GOP’s conservative wing and expose Republican senators to primary election challenges next year.

But walking away from the issue without a vote could prove the riskier political strategy as the nation waits to see whether New York becomes the sixth and largest state to sanction same-sex marriage.

Thursday, the Senate adjourned for the night at 11 p.m. without even talking about same-sex marriage. Senators will resume work today, but it remains unclear whether they will vote on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has not agreed to allow a vote.

The Senate's Republican majority is scheduled to meet behind closed doors at 10 a.m. today then go into open session.

But a backlog of other more ordinary yet important bills for New Yorkers must be dealt with first.

Once those bills are passed, the Senate Republicans could start what would likely be a lengthy debate over the gay marriage bill in a closed-door caucus. They could then send the bill to the floor, or kill it.

No vote would unleash a continual stream of questions and backlash from gay rights advocates, Democrats, and national and local media that could linger through campaigns in 2012, a presidential election year.

Avoiding the vote would fly in the face of a popular governor who has made gay marriage a core agenda item. The Republican senators could count on the same issue waiting for them in Albany next January, when the Legislature re-convenes.

“Whether it’s this year or next year, at some point it’ll go on the floor,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, who opposes same-sex marriage but is open to allowing a vote.

Senators, especially those opposing same-sex marriage, get the conundrum. That explains why they are working to amend legislation they may ultimately vote against.

“I think the best case scenario for us is to have an up or down vote and move on to our core issues, jobs and taxes,” said Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican from Putnam County who has spent days working to insert more religious protections into a bill already passed last week by the Assembly.
If the Republicans, who control the Senate punt this year, it will come back at them with a vengeance next year during a Presidential election season, and their thin majority in the Senate could be at risk. That's why getting this off their plate makes sense as it would let them deal with other pressing issues, including mandate relief.

This should have been included in the "framework" agreement between the Legislature and Gov. Cuomo (aka 3 men in a room - Gov. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Speaker Shelly Silver), but it wasn't. That was a mistake on Skelos' part although he has to keep his caucus in line on the other issues.

So, while the legislature could potentially end its session today, it has to deal with several important outstanding bills, including the gay marriage bill and we could be looking at a marathon session once again before the weekend. Either that, or the legislature will be back next week to pass what is still left on the calendar.

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