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June 3, 2011

Final push for marriage begins in New York state

Albany, N.Y.--With just a few weeks left in the legislative session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and gay civil rights supporters are cranking up efforts to pass a full marriage bill, after it failed in the state senate two years ago.

The measure has easily passed the state House for several years. But the Senate, now controlled by Republicans, is the major obstacle. The legislative session closes on June 20.

Since the 2009 effort, there has been turnover of legislators, including several Democrats, who voted against the measure, and other senators are considered “up for grabs” to lobbying by supporters. Much of that support is coming from wealthy Republican donors, who hope to sway moderate Republican senators.

Among them is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a multi-millionaire who is actively promoting marriage equality in the state. He switched from Republican to independent, but still donates heavily to Republican candidates.

The Albany Times-Union names some of the senators who are in play: Republicans Roy McDonald, Andrew Lanza, Greg Ball, Jim Alesi, and Hugh Farley, and Democrats Neil Breslin, Joe Addabbo and Shirley Huntley. In the 2009 session, a number of high-ranking but conservative Democrats crossed party lines to vote against the bill.

Bloomberg gave a May 26 speech at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, urgently calling for the Senate to pass the marriage bill.

“We gather, in the tradition of those who came before us, to discuss a momentous question before our nation and our great state of New York: Should government permit men and women of the same sex to marry?” he asked. “It is a question that cuts to the core of who we are as a country, and as a city. It is a question that deserves to be answered here in New York, which was the birthplace of the gay rights movement, more than 40 years ago.”

“At our founding, African Americans were held in bondage. Catholics in New York could not hold office. Those without property could not vote. Women could not vote or hold office. And homosexuality was, in some places, a crime punishable by death,” Bloomberg continued. “One by one, over many long years, the legal prohibitions to freedom and equality were overcome: Some on the battlefield, some at the State House and some in the courthouse . . .  Each and every generation has helped our country take another step on the road to a more perfect union for all our citizens. That is the arc of American history. That is the march of freedom. That is the journey that we must never stop traveling.”

He went on to discuss the Stonewall riots, regarded as the beginning of the modern gay civil rights movement.

“Today, a majority of Americans support marriage equality, and young people increasingly view marriage equality in much the same way as young people in the 1960s viewed civil rights,” he noted. “Eventually, as happened with civil rights for African Americans, they will be a majority of voters. And they will pass laws that reflect their values and elect presidents who personify them. It is not a matter of if, but when.”

“And the question for every New York State lawmaker is: Do you want to be remembered as a leader on civil rights? Or an obstructionist? On matters of freedom and equality, history has not remembered obstructionists kindly,” he concluded. “Not on abolition. Not on women’s suffrage. Not on workers’ rights. Not on civil rights. And it will be no different on marriage rights.”

Pushing against the passage of same-sex marriage is the National Organization for Marriage, which pledged $1.5 million to work against the bill. NOM is engaged in lawsuits across the country against campaign finance disclosure laws, as they refuse to release lists of their donors, despite laws requiring it in several states in which they have operated.

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