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Why has New York's gay marriage bill been stalled for days?

Republicans in the Senate say they are concerned about protections for religious groups that don't want to perform a gay marriage, but more-political calculations could also be playing a role.

By Patrick WallContributor / June 22, 2011

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in the Hall of Governors at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday. The Senate is considering a bill that would legalize gay marriage.

Mike Groll/AP

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New York

New York’s gay marriage law remains stuck in the Republican-controlled state Senate, where legislators are considering the law’s potential impact on religious groups – and, some analysts say, their own political fortunes.

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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. Since then, the Senate’s Republican majority has held a series of closed-door meetings – several with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo – to discuss the bill and whether it should be brought to a full vote.

The holdup has centered on whether exemptions in the bill to protect religious groups from civil lawsuits if they refuse to preside over or host same-sex ceremonies are sufficient.

To some legal analysts, Republicans' concerns are well founded. Religious-affiliated nonprofits such as Catholic Charities or the Salvation Army lack certain protections, as do individuals who are morally opposed to gay marriage, says Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

Moreover, municipalities could penalize religious groups that refuse to serve married gay couples.

“Just because the state has this idea that they’ll write these exemptions in doesn’t mean that local governments won’t come in and say, 'We’ll punish you,' ” Professor Wilson adds.

In particular, she says municipalities could refuse to enter into contracts with or give tax breaks to groups that violate their antidiscrimination policies.

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