New York state Senate rejects gay marriage, focus turns to N.J.

The 38-to-24 vote in the New York state Senate is a fresh and stinging defeat for gay marriage, which was also recently rejected in Maine. Now, the New Jersey legislature might take up this issue.

Tim Roske/AP
Protesters react after the New York state Senate defeated a bill legalizing same-sex marriage at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday. The bill was defeated 38-24.

After a heated and often emotional debate about same-sex marriage in the New York state Senate, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have made that state the sixth to legalize gay marriage.

While New York Gov. David Paterson backed the bill – and the state Assembly already passed it – Democratic supporters needed some Republican aid to pass the marriage law. No GOP lawmakers voted for the bill, which failed in a 38 to 24 vote.

“It's certainly disappointing," Richard Socarides, who served as President Clinton’s adviser on gay rights, told the Associated Press. “I'm surprised that it was not closer. We'll have to take a hard look at what went wrong.”

Gay rights advocates have long been pushing New York lawmakers to take up the marriage question. The sate already recognizes same-sex marriages that have been performed in other states. In anticipation of the measure being taken up in New York, advocacy groups on both sides of the issue have been lobbying lawmakers.

"This is a huge win, it puts the nail in the coffin on the idea that gay marriage advocates can persuade a majority of Americans their cause is just," said Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), in a statement. "New York makes it crystal clear: the American people do not support gay marriage and they do not want their politicians messing with this issue."

The Maine effect

Many gay and lesbian rights activists worried that the defeat in Maine last month, when voters rejected that state’s same-sex marriage law, would dampen their momentum.

After the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal in Massachusetts in 2004, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont have legalized same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, city councilors in the District of Columbia took initial steps needed to make gay marriage legal there.

But after Maine, many gay rights activists speculated that lawmakers around the country would be wary of supporting same-sex marriage legislation. While a CBS/New York Times poll show that support for gay marriage is growing, Maine served as a reminder that most Americans still oppose the idea. According to a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 53 percent say they don't think it should be legal.

Gay marriage advocates are certainly aware of public opinion. In California, where gay marriage was legalized by courts and later outlawed by ballot initiative, the gay and lesbian community remains split over when to return to the polls in an effort to legalize gay marriage. One reason why the New York Senate became such a battleground on the issue is because that state doesn't have a referendum or initiative process that would allow voters to overrule their representatives.

Next up: New Jersey

Now that the question in New York has been decided for the near term, adversaries in the gay marriage debate are turning attentions to New Jersey, another state where the legislature is expected to vote on gay marriage in the coming weeks.

In that state, NOM has launched a $500,000 campaign to keep the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature from taking up the issue before Gov. Jon Corzine, who supports gay marriage, leaves office in January and is replaced by Republican Chris Christie. Mr. Christie says he would veto such a bill.

Two hundred Garden State Democrats – lawmakers, lobbyists, and activists – issued a letter Tuesday calling for the gay marriage vote. "We appreciate that this is a difficult issue for some state legislators," the letter reads. "We believe that equality and fairness are fundamental principles of New Jersey's Democratic Party, and that is why we call on the state legislature to vote immediately on, and pass, the marriage equality bill,” the letter read.

A November Rutgers-Eagleton poll, which took place before NOM intensified efforts in New Jersey, shows that voters there support legalizing same-sex marriage by a four-point margin.

David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, recently said: “While this tests opinion outside the intensity of a campaign to ban gay marriage, as occurred in California, there is more of a ‘live and let live’ attitude in New Jersey than in many other states that have dealt with this issue."

See also:

DC votes to allow gay marriage, but issue not settled

Maine vote a devastating blow to gay marriage

Gay rights advocates win a round on California’s Prop. 8


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