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Marriage Equality Close to Reality in New York State

In New York, three Democratic state Senators have announced their support for marriage equality, reversing their prior opposition. According to the latest whip count, this gives supporters 29 votes in the state Senate, with 32 needed for passage.

The three senators — Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. and Shirley L. Huntley of Queens and Carl Kruger of Brooklyn — all voted against the measure in 2009, when it failed by a wide margin. Their switch to the yes column leaves all but one Senate Democrat supporting same-sex marriage — and the fate of the legislation in the hands of the Republican majority in the chamber.

Three Republican senators will now have to vote for same-sex marriage if the measure is to pass in the 62-member chamber. The lone Democrat now opposing the measure, Rubén Díaz Sr., is the Senate’s most vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and is not considered swayable under any circumstances.

The State Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, has repeatedly passed the measure.

It comes down to this. The last time that the Senate brought forward a marriage equality bill in New York, Republicans voted against it unanimously, apparently under orders from their leadership. This time around, Dean Skelos, the Republican Majority Leader and an opponent of marriage equality, has said previously that he would allow a “vote of conscience” on the bill. Sources indicate as many as seven potential supporters in the GOP caucus:

Seven or more Senate Republicans have signaled Gov. Cuomo that they’re ready to legalize same-sex marriage, more than enough to put the controversial and historic measure over the top this week, The Post has learned.

A highly knowledgeable Senate insider said yesterday that “far more of the [GOP] members are in play than anyone realizes, including some surprising names from conservative upstate areas.”

Among the unexpected potential Senate Republican “yes” votes, insiders say, are Kemp Hannon of Nassau County, Charles Fuscillo of Suffolk County, Betty Little of Glens Falls, Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, Greg Ball of Putnam County, James Alesi of Rochester, and Roy McDonald of Rensselaer County — all of whom helped defeat gay marriage when the vote was held in December 2009.

Influences contributing to the changes of heart are secret Republican polls showing majority support for gay marriage in key swing districts and the strong possibility that the GOP could lose control of the Senate next year to Democrats campaigning on the issue, sources said.

Before we discover this, the vote has to come to the floor, and Skelos controls the schedule. There’s a meeting today to determine the level of support. Governor Andrew Cuomo supports marriage equality and wants a vote this week, but he won’t push for one unless he’s sure it will pass. The 2009 loss was a disaster for equality advocates, who were straight-up lied to by many members. They were able to corral support from everyone but one homophobic Democrat. The Republicans, however, hold the keys here.

Skelos said in 2009 that he would allow a “vote of conscience” on an equality bill, only to enforce discipline and not give up a single yes vote. Republican Senators are worried that they will be the deciding vote on equality, and then be targeted by the state Conservative Party in primaries. Skelos isn’t saying whether he’ll even allow a vote this time.

New York would become the sixth state (along with the District of Columbia) to allow marriage equality. It already recognizes same-sex marriages from other states.

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David Dayen

David Dayen