ALBANY, N.Y. - Legislators worked methodically Friday to clear away a raft of standard bills to make way for a pivotal gay marriage vote as advocates and Republicans who hold the key agreed on one thing: They don't want the much-anticipated decision to drag on much longer.
Security was tight in the Capitol as opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage clogged the marble hallways after a week of rising tensions and great expectations.
Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous said the 32 Republican senators who hold the majority in that chamber could meet behind closed doors later Friday to decide whether to send the bill to the floor for a vote after they get through other bills.
Libous, a Broome County Republican, said GOP senators don't want to further stretch the 2011 session, which was supposed to have ended Monday. He said that if the caucus sends the gay marriage bill out, it could be voted on Friday.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is an Orthodox Jew and observes the Sabbath, which means he won't work between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday. The Assembly is expected to approve several amendments to provide greater protection for religious groups from discrimination lawsuits as a result of a gay marriage law.
There is acute interest nationally in what happens in New York, heightened by the timing: This weekend, events are scheduled around the country to celebrate gay pride, culminating Sunday with parades in New York City, San Francisco and other cities. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo very publicly attended last year's gay pride parade in New York with his daughters, which drew sharp criticism from his Republican opponent in the race for governor.
Senate Democrats say the Republicans are mismanaging important bills, including gay marriage.
"Where is marriage?" asked Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan, adding that 31 members in the 62-seat Senate support it. "Bring it to the floor. Conventional wisdom is that if it comes to the floor, it will pass. Why not bring it to the floor? It's outrageous.
"Instead, we were discussing corn and onions most of the week," she said, referring to a debate over naming the state vegetable.
Sen. Adriano Espaillat, another Democrat from Manhattan, noted the fervent demonstrators waiting for a vote.
"We should stop playing with peoples' lives," Espaillat said. "I have been here 14 years. I haven't seen this level of passion and anxiety ... it's very scary right now."
A coalition of gay rights advocates on Friday morning also demanded that the Senate break a lingering logjam and allow a vote on the legalization of gay marriage.
As senators returned to work, security precautions were increased in the Capitol as opponents and supporters of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage continue to clog the marble hallways. A vote is viewed as a critical point in the national debate over gay marriage.
"We remain steadfast in our demand that the state uphold its obligation to the people of the state of New York and allow a vote on marriage equality," said New Yorkers United for Marriage, the coalition of leading gay rights groups created to lobby for legalizing gay marriage.
The Senate's Republican majority entered a closed-door session again Friday to discuss more traditional legislation before it is expected to turn to gay marriage later in the day. Some of those bills include a property tax cap, rent control for New York City apartment dwellers and a tuition increase for public colleges and universities.
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos ended the latest marathon session just before 11 p.m. Thursday for the "health of members."
After a Rules Committee meeting late into the night, all senators were directed to use back hallways to avoid the constant chanting and singing from hundreds of demonstrators who lined the hallways outside the Senate's conference room and the majority leader's office. On Friday, the crowds were again moved to stairwells away from those Senate offices.
Although the crowds have been respectful and there have been no arrests or violence, the throng on Thursday made the hallway hot and humid as they chanted loudly and constantly, shoulder to shoulder. Several Republican senators are in their 70s, and in years past, older lawmakers have fallen ill under the pressure of the long, tense days that come at the end of the annual legislative session.
Gay rights supporters have secured legal marriage status for same-sex couples in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and the District of Columbia, and are hoping a gain in New York will give them greater momentum.