Counting the Votes for Gay Marriage in New York

Democrats hold only a 32-30 majority in the New York Senate. Four Democrats have said they won't vote to legalize gay marriage. So, the ...
by | April 16, 2009

Democrats hold only a 32-30 majority in the New York Senate. Four Democrats have said they won't vote to legalize gay marriage. So, the gay marriage bill that Gov. David Paterson's just introduced is dead on arrival, right?

It turns out that the answer may be no, as the Albany Times-Union reports:

Sen. Tom Duane, D-Manhattan, who will sponsor the bill in the Senate, said he is confident that a bill to legalize same-sex marriage will pass this year, and that it will pass with bipartisan support.

"I always knew that this would happen with bipartisan support," Duane said Tuesday. " ... We are not going to do this just with a majority, but a majority with extra votes."

Duane said he has commitments of support from Republican senators, but wouldn't name them.

It's possible that Duane is overly optimistic. I wouldn't have expected a legislative chamber with such a narrow Democratic edge to support a gay marriage bill. But, if Duane is right, that would demystify a couple of recent political puzzles in New York.

One is why state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., an ardent foe of same-sex marriage, demanded that the Senate's Democratic leaders promise him that a gay marriage bill wouldn't come up for a vote this year. Diaz was part of a small group of dissident Democrats who wavered on whether to support their party's leader, Malcolm Smith, for majority leader. It's unknown, by the way, whether Smith made that promise to Diaz (we may be about to find out).

The demand doesn't make much sense if the votes aren't there. Why would Diaz care whether the Senate votes on gay marriage if the vote is bound to fail? Diaz must have calculated that, at the very least, the legislation had a chance to pass.

The second puzzle is why Paterson would introduce the legislation. This move didn't just anger opponents of gay marriage. It actually angered some supporters too, who were quietly trying to build support behind the scenes.

Paterson surely understands that the greatest threat to his reelection is Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, is the most popular politician in New York right now. Even if Paterson is fairly unpopular in November 2010, he could survive a general election because of New York's Democratic inclination and the absence of a Republican opponent (we'll see whether Rudy Giuliani ends up running).

The Democratic primary, on the other hand, is a bigger and more immediate challenge. Paterson needs to rebuild support within his own party. A great way to do that would be to win credit as the man responsible for the legalization of gay marriage in New York (in the Assembly, a clear majority favors gay marriage).

Paterson's move won't do him much good if the gay marriage bill sputters in the Senate, so perhaps Paterson thinks that Duane is right.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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