After hours of closed-door meetings, the Republican-controlled New York Senate gave up for the night on same-sex marriage, promising to return to the contentious issue Friday morning.
The Democratic-dominated Assembly last week approved the bill, which would make New York the sixth and most populous state to permit same-sex marriages, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has promised to sign it.
The sticking point remains exemptions to protect religious groups from civil lawsuits if they refuse to preside over or host same-sex ceremonies.
At the moment, 31 lawmakers in the Assembly – 29 Democrats and 2 Republicans – say they’ll vote for the same-sex marriage bill. But that’s one vote short of the necessary majority, and supporters would like to have more than 32 so that no single senator would be seen as casting the deciding vote.
“If there is an announcement prior to the vote, it will not be just one senator. No one wants to be the 32nd vote,” Dan Weiller, a spokesman for Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s largest gay-rights group, told Reuters.
Coincidentally, as New York lawmakers were trying to work out a deal on same-sex marriage, President Obama was at a New York fundraiser for gay, lesbian, and bisexual supporters.
It’s a big part of his political base. Some exit polls show that as many as 70 percent of gay voters voted for Obama in 2008.
Over time, support for same-sex marriage has grown throughout the electorate – especially among younger voters – to the point where it is essentially evenly split. In New York State, a recent Siena poll found 58 percent in favor of same-sex marriage.
Speaking at the fundraiser Thursday night, Obama pointed to his administration’s achievements: repealing the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly serving in the armed forces, ordering the Justice Department not to defend the “Defense of Marriage Act,” and extending benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.
But on same-sex marriage, Obama continues to say that his position is “evolving.” So far, that includes support for civil unions but not legally-recognized marriage.
“I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as any other couple in this country,” Obama said.
“Traditionally, marriage has been decided by the states and right now I understand there’s a little debate going on here in New York,” he said to laughter. New York’s lawmakers, he said, are “doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do.”