- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

Those who assumed that New Hampshire would have the last word on approving same-sex marriage this year haven’t been paying attention to New York.

The New York Senate has until June 22 to take up an Assembly bill that would legalize gay marriage.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith has said he wouldn’t bring the bill to the floor unless it has the votes to win. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Thomas Duane, told the New York Daily News that he had the votes needed to approve the bill

However, opponents dismissed Mr. Duane’s claim, and reports of vote-counting and side-shifting have played for weeks in the New York media. Democrats control the Senate by a razor-thin margin of 32-30, and several Democratic state senators have expressed opposition to same-sex marriage.

Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, the brother of openly gay comedian Rosie O’Donnell, sponsored the bill in New York’s Democrat-controlled lower house, where it won easily May 12 by a vote of 89-52. A similar bill was passed by the Assembly in 2007.

The holdup for gay-marriage advocates has long been the Senate. Supporters were hopeful that such a bill would be successful in 2009 after Democrats upended the Republican Senate majority in November, but so far that hasn’t been the case.

The biggest obstacle to winning passage may be state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Democrat who has spearheaded the fight against same-sex marriage. Mr. Diaz has said there are six Democrat state senators who oppose the bill, which would leave the bill’s advocates well short of a majority.

An evangelical pastor, Mr. Diaz helped lead a raucous May 17 protest outside the office of Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson, a strong supporter of the gay marriage bill. Mr. Paterson,who proposed the bill and has lobbied hard in favor of it, has called on the Senate leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a vote whether or not it has the support to pass.

A week after the rally, Mr. Diaz pointed to a Siena poll showing a drop in support among New Yorkers for same-sex marriage, with those in favor and those against now locked in a tie at 46 percent each.

“Before that demonstration, it was 53 percent in favor of gay marriage,” Mr. Diaz told Talk 1300 AM radio. “What I’m telling you is the demonstration, the education we have been giving to the community is already achieving some positive note and the percentage is coming down.”

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said backers of same-sex marriage are turning up the heat on their state senators through letters, e-mails and phone calls.

“New York is certainly a battleground,” Mr. Wolfson said. “The real question is whether the senators will crunch down and follow the will of the people of New York and pass it.”

The Siena poll notwithstanding, Mr. Wolfson said most surveys showed that New Yorkers support same-sex marriage.

“Almost every state New York touches has moved ahead of New York in protecting families and approving marriage equality,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that if we do our work, tell our stories, the Senate will do the right thing.”

Gay marriage bills have met with unprecedented legislative success this year. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed into law a same-sex marriage bill Wednesday, following Maine Gov. John Baldacci, who did so in May. The Vermont legislature also approved same-sex marriage earlier this year, although legislators had to override a gubernatorial veto to do it.

In Iowa, the state Supreme Court declared the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in March, following similar decisions in earlier years by the high courts in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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

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