Advocates are pressuring Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos to hold a vote on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage today, after lawmakers spent yesterday negotiating amendments to exempt nonprofit organizations affiliated with religious institutions and individuals from recognizing gay relationships. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) bill “must include enough protections so religious groups that oppose gay marriage aren’t hit with discrimination lawsuits,” the Associated Press is reporting. “Those provisions are intended not just for the undecided senators but to satisfy the whole Republican conference enough to send the bill to a floor vote.”
“We are working on that language now,” Cuomo said during a press conference yesterday where he also insisted that “we have not hit any obstacles” towards reaching an agreement. Undecided Sen. Andrew Lanza (R) seemed to agree: “We’re close on language that I believe satisfactorily addresses the issue,” he said. Right now, 31 senators, including two Republicans, publicly support marriage equality. The measure would need just one more vote to pass.
Last night, the governor remained “cautiously optimistic that it will pass” and called on Skelos to bring the measure to the floor for a vote. “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.” Republican Sen. Greg Ball, also an undecided, echoed this sentiment, saying “there should definitely be a vote up or down. We live in a democracy.” Senators may also be “concerned they will be called back to Albany for a special session unless they vote“:
“I see it coming to the floor,” said a Republican senator. “People who don’t understand the process are thinking, ‘Don’t bring it up and it will go away for a year.’”
If they block the bill and head home to their districts, the senator said, the governor would likely order them back to Albany for a special session and demand that they take up the measure.
At one point this week, a small contingent of Republican senators floated the idea of settling the matter with a voter referendum — a process for which does not currently exist — instead of a legislative vote. Other Republicans, including the Senate leader, Dean Skelos, shot down the idea, doubting that it would be possible to get Assembly Democrats or the governor to consider such an option.
Meanwhile, Republicans’ fears of fighting off discrimination lawsuits if religious individuals and businesses are not exempt from recognizing gay couples may be overblown. As Reuters points out, “In Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, all of which have passed gay-marriage legislation with religious exemptions, similar fears of lawsuits have not been borne out.”
If the Senate approves the measure today, the bill would then have to go back to the Assembly — which approved marriage equality last week — for a vote on the additional religious protections before landing on the governor’s desk.
In October, then-Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R) said that the GOP would welcome another vote on marriage equality if they took control of the chamber.