- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A New York bill legalizing same-sex marriage appeared dead in the water last week after Republicans overthrew the Democrat-controlled Senate, but reports of the legislation’s demise may be greatly exaggerated.

Opponents of the gay marriage bill worry that the ensuing turmoil could actually bolster the legislation’s chances of passage this year as Republicans attempt to stake out a clear majority by luring Democrats into their fold.

“My fear is they [Republicans] could give the bill up in order to get Democrats to join the majority,” said New York state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long. “Some people are trying to use it as a bargaining chip.”

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara refused Tuesday to get involved in the state Senate’s power struggle, saying that it would be an “intrusion” to decide which party is in charge and that legislators should work out their leadership issues themselves.

Lawmakers had turned to the state Supreme Court after two Democratic senators joined Republicans in a June 8 overthrow of the Democratic leadership. The coalition ousted Senate President Malcolm Smith and elected one of the defectors, Democratic Sen. Pedro Espada, as his replacement.

On Monday, however, the other defector, state Sen. Hiram Monserrate, switched his allegiance back to the Democrats. That leaves the Senate in a 31-31 deadlock.

Mr. Espada said Tuesday that the judge’s order means that the Republican-installed leadership remains in place, and called on senators to report to work. Democrats, who have refused to recognize the Republican-led coalition’s leaders, are expected to appeal the judge’s decision.

Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson said Tuesday he would be willing to step in temporarily and run the session, as he did when he was lieutenant governor, but Republicans declined his offer. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Monday, although there was speculation that lawmakers would extend the Senate session.

None of this would appear to bode well for the gay marriage bill. The legislation’s final hurdle remains the Senate vote. The bill was approved earlier by the Assembly, and Mr. Paterson, an enthusiastic supporter of same-sex marriage, has said he will sign it.

But the coup and ensuing turmoil actually could work to the bill’s benefit. Mr. Espada has said he backs the gay marriage bill and would support bringing it to the floor for a vote, unlike Mr. Smith, who had refused to allow the bill to come before the full Senate unless it had the votes to pass.

The bill’s leading opponent, Democratic state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., said Tuesday that the current legislative turbulence has upset the agreement that was keeping the bill from reaching the floor.

“I’ve been holding that bill from coming to the floor, and now I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mr. Diaz said. “And now we have a new Democratic leader. Right now, all bets are off.”

Before the coup, Mr. Diaz said he had counted 29 senators against the same-sex marriage bill and 20 in favor, with the rest either undecided or declining to state their position. As lawmakers jockey for position under the new leadership, however, Republicans seeking to increase their numbers to avoid a power-sharing arrangement with Democrats could end up agreeing to terms that would favor the same-sex marriage bill’s passage.

“If they get two or three more Democrats to join the 31-member caucus, there’s been discussion to give up same-sex marriage bill if it gets them some Democrats,” Mr. Long said.

A spokesman for Democratic state Sen. Thomas Duane, the gay marriage bill’s sponsor, said the senator was waiting for the dust to settle before reacting.

“At this point we’re declining to comment on this topic because things are literally changing three times a day,” said Duane spokesman Eric Sumberg. “The reality is this is not getting solved today.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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