N.Y. gay marriage measure defeated

Governor says vote lacked fortitude

By Jeremy W. Peters
New York Times / December 3, 2009

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ALBANY, N.Y. - The New York state Senate decisively rejected a bill yesterday that would have allowed gay couples to wed, providing a major victory for those who oppose same-sex marriage and underscoring the deep and emotional divisions surrounding the issue.

The 38-24 margin startled proponents of the bill, and signaled that political momentum, at least right now, has shifted against same-sex marriage, even in heavily Democratic New York. The vote followed more than a year of lobbying by gay rights organizations, who have poured close to $1 million into New York legislative races to boost support for the measure.

Senator Thomas W. Libous, the deputy Republican leader, said the public is gripped by economic anxiety and remains uneasy about changing the state’s definition of marriage.

“Certainly this is an emotional issue and an important issue for many New Yorkers,’’ said Libous, who represents Binghamton. “I just don’t think the majority care too much about it at this time because they’re out of work, they want to see the state reduce spending, and they are having a hard time making ends meet. And I don’t mean to sound callous, but that’s true.’’

The defeat, which followed a stirring and at times deeply personal debate, all but ensures the issue is dead in New York until at least 2011, when a new Legislature will be installed.

Since 2003, seven states, including three that border New York, legalized same-sex marriage. But in two of the seven, including Maine last month, voters have reversed the decisions of lawmakers or judges in referendums, and effectively outlawed gay nuptials.

In Albany yesterday, proponents had believed going into the vote that they could attract up to 35 supporters to the measure; at their most pessimistic, they said they would draw at least 26. They had the support from Governor David A. Paterson, who has publicly championed the bill, along with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and the Senate Democratic leadership.

The defeat revealed stark divides: All 30 of the Republican senators opposed the bill, as did most of the members from upstate New York and Long Island. Support was heaviest among members from New York City and Westchester County and among the Senate’s 10 African-Americans. Seven of the Senate’s 10 women voted for it.

Senators who are considered politically vulnerable also voted almost uniformly against the bill, including four first-term Democrats.