Agreement Reached on Religious Exemptions in NY Marriage Equality Bill; UPDATE: Vote Scheduled
After weeks of suspense, marriage equality negotiations between legislative leaders and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have yielded a compromise on language regarding religious institutions, which should pave the way for passage in the state Senate, the final hurdle in the process. However, there is no guarantee that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will bring up the final bill for a vote.
Senate Republicans were still discussing the marriage bill in a closed-door meeting on Friday afternoon; it remained unclear whether — or if — they would permit a vote on the broader legislation. The State Assembly, which approved an earlier version of the same-sex marriage bill last week, would need to approve the new language before the full bill could become law.
Emerging from a meeting with Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the Assembly version of the bill, said that there was an “agreement in principle” on the new language. He predicted that the Assembly would vote to adopt the new language on Friday.
The language would reportedly protect religious institutions that opposed marriage equality, but would have no bearing on the formal civil recognition by the state of New York. Freedom to Marry, the umbrella marriage equality group in New York, said over Twitter that the “amended language strikes an appropriate balance that allows all loving, committed couples to marry while preserving religious freedom.”
But the hurdle, as ever, seems to be whether or not the Republican opponent of gay rights would allow the bill a vote. Republicans in the state Senate, holding a thin one-vote majority, might rather take a walk on this vote than give their opponents a target for the next election. Or, Skelos may be trying to wring out other concessions as a condition for allowing a vote. I’m hopeful that agreement has been reached and will result in a vote, but it’s all very unclear.
UPDATE: The text of the religious exemption is here.
UPDATE II: Senator Skelos has confirmed that the Senate will take the vote tonight. “It will be a vote of conscience for every member of the Senate,” he said. We could see marriage equality in New York in a matter of hours.