NY leaders: Progress made on gay marriage vote

Opponents to gay marriage pray in a hallway outside a Republican conference room at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.
AP Photo/Mike Groll

ALBANY, N.Y. - State legislative leaders said there are no major obstacles to negotiations on religious protections in a gay marriage bill, potentially opening the way to a vote on the issue as early as Wednesday night.

Democrats and Republicans emerged from meetings with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and said there was progress toward proposed additional religious protections that could bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. No deal had been struck as of Wednesday afternoon, and even if religious protections were added there was no guarantee the bill would come to a full vote.

More protection for religious organizations such as adoption agencies and marriage counselors is sought by undecided Republican senators who are key to the vote.

Currently, the Senate appears to be one vote shy of making New York the sixth state where gay marriage is legal. It's viewed as a critical moment in the national gay rights movement.

Republican senators went into a closed-door caucus Wednesday morning, but the gay marriage bill wasn't on the immediate agenda as they took up other major issues including a property tax cap, New York City rent control and public college tuition increases.

Outside the Senate conference, members of several congregations sang hymns including "Amazing Grace" alternating with "God Bless America" in peaceful demonstrations by those for and against same-sex marriage. As proponents chanted and held signs calling for "Liberty and Justice for All," senators quietly left their closed-door conference late in the morning.

A famous chef and television actress were among the advocates promoting legalization on Wednesday. Restaurateur Mario Batali said he was at the Capitol representing his 3,000 employees, who understand they should be able to make their own decisions on marriage, not the government.

Audra McDonald, who appears on television's "Private Practice," said she has many gay and lesbian Broadway friends in committed relationships and thinks there would be "tons" of weddings.

Both said gay marriage would bring an estimated $400 million economic boost for the state and New York City.

The Democrat-led Assembly has already passed Cuomo's bill. But Senate Republicans, who mostly oppose gay marriage, would have to allow the measure to the floor for a vote.

If it passes the Senate, the Assembly is ready to adopt any additional religious protections.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said "the concepts are agreed" to in the additional religious exceptions, but "there's no final agreement on the exact language."

The comments came after an extensive closed-door meeting involving Cuomo, Silver and Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos.

The effort to legalize same-sex marriage largely stalled two years ago when the state Senate voted it down. Since then, the movement has failed in Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Advocates hope a "yes" vote in New York will jumpstart the effort.

Cuomo said he believed there would be a Senate vote and was "cautiously optimistic that it will pass."

"I believe the people are entitled to a vote and let the elected officials stand up and say `yea' or `nay,"' Cuomo said. "I believe that's how democracy works."

Two Republicans clearly undecided are Sen. Stephen Saland, of the Hudson Valley, one of the Senate's most veteran and respected members, and Sen. Mark Grisanti, of Buffalo, a freshman who is part of the GOP youth movement voted into office in the 2010 Republican tide nationwide.

Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. Of them, all but Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., allow at least limited religious exemptions.

New York's legislative session had been scheduled to end Monday.

But in the true essence of Albany, politicians in this nearly 400-year-old city bargained and bickered over a host of seemingly unconnected issues - like rent control for New York City apartments and a statewide property tax cap - before addressing the hot-button topic, CBS New York reports.