NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Amped-up rhetoric aside and with seemingly little regard for the national microscope being trained on them, lawmakers in New York returned to office Tuesday with the galvanizing issue of gay marriage still unresolved after more than a week of shrieking headlines and backdoor negotiations.
In the true essence of Albany, politicians in this nearly 400-year-old city bargained and bickered over a host of seemingly unconnected issues as gay couples and other states watched closely for indications about which way the national debate is evolving over using the word “marriage” to describe the union between people of the same sex.
Now that the “framework” for an agreement on rent control for New York City apartments and a statewide property tax cap have been reached it is likely the gay marriage debate will reach a critical showdown on Wednesday.
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Republican leader Dean Skelos said he didn’t discuss gay marriage in two private meetings Tuesday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo or other meetings with the Democratic leader of the state Assembly. Tuesday was the last scheduled day of the legislative session, but it appears that legislators will stay one more day and could still take up gay marriage.
Skelos, a Long Island Republican, holds great sway over which bills make it to the full Senate for a vote.
There was little progress Monday, even as hundreds of chanting protesters from each side of the highly charged debate in New York tried to make their case. The key sticking point appears to be how much freedom to grant religious groups who protest gay marriage and refuse to perform services or provide related functions like wedding receptions.
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Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and the District of Columbia all allow gay marriage. Of them, all but Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., allow at least limited religious exemptions.
On Monday, after a three-hour meeting behind those closed doors, the 32 Republican senators emerged without comment.
New York’s vote is pivotal in the national question over same-sex marriage, an effort that largely stalled in the same room two years ago when the Senate voted it down. Since then, efforts have failed in New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maryland. Advocates hope a “yes” vote will jump-start the effort.
Skelos worries a federal judge could strike down flimsy religious protections in the current proposal if a religious group, such as the Knights of Columbus, is sued for discrimination for refusing to provide its hall for a gay wedding. He wants protections that will allow a religious group to observe its principles without conflicting with a gay marriage law.
“I think that’s critically important,” Skelos said.
Monday’s inaction was a disappointment for both sides of the gay marriage issue, some of whom had expected a decision a week ago.
“We’re working to protect the religious protections so that they’re solid and they will stand. You could have a judge come in and knock out all the religious protections,” Skelos said on Monday.
The day’s uncommon, but peaceful demonstrations included a group saying the Rosary in the nearby Capitol park. Inside the building’s marble halls, opponents chanted “God says no!” while supporters countered with “God is love!” They sang hymns such as “Victory is Mine” and songs like “God Bless America” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
State troopers were called to the Senate chamber floor as the two groups started to merge and talk with each other, but there was no escalation in the jammed hallways that turned stifling hot from the number of people and TV cameras. Most were respectful and kept to their own groups.
“We certainly have no hatred for anyone who follows this lifestyle,” said Pastor William Mayhew of Faith Bible Chapel in Millerton. “The difference is we will be forced in our churches, in our businesses, all of our life practices, to acknowledge something which we strongly, morally disagree.”
Among the opposition has been the man who made a Super Bowl-winning catch who believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
“I always knew that God had a hand in enabling me to make that catch with one hand on the side of my head,” former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree said. “That was something I couldn’t do with my own ability. Perhaps God orchestrated that play to give me a platform for what I’m doing here today.”
The Assembly has already passed the measure.
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