N.Y. State Senate votes down gay marriage bill by wide margin

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

NEW YORK -- Opponents of gay marriage celebrated a decisive vote in the New York State Senate, where a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage was defeated 38 to 24 on Wednesday.

The unexpectedly wide margin was delivered in a relatively liberal state where the other chamber of the legislature has thrice approved the measure and the governor, David A. Paterson, had been poised to sign it into law. The vote prompted pronouncements that the momentum for gay marriage had been not only halted, but also effectively reversed. Same-sex marriage is legal in Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and, most recently, New Hampshire, where it goes into effect Jan. 1.

"I think you put it all together and it most likely spells the end of the idea that you can pass gay marriage democratically anywhere else in the United States," said Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which spearheaded opposition in Albany. "I think the gay marriage lobby will have to go back to a court-based approach.

"We did believe they were short at least five votes, but we did not expect to win by 14 votes."

Opponents said New York lawmakers heeded the outcome of a Nov. 3 ballot measure in Maine, where voters repealed a gay marriage law before it went into effect.

"And there was what we like to call 'the Dede effect,' '' Gallagher said.

The phrase is a reference to Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate who dropped out of a special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District in the face of a strong challenge from Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. The National Organization for Marriage said its poll indicated that half of Hoffman's supporters gravitated toward him because of Scozzafava's support for gay marriage.

The seat was won by a Democrat who supports civil unions, but not marriage, for same-sex couples.

"I think Upstate Democrats had to be feeling the heat on this deal," said Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a lobby that represents many evangelical and Pentecostal churches. "New York 23 really showed that conservatism is not dead."

Supporters of same-sex marriage were taken aback by the margin but insisted that calling for the vote clarified the realpolitik behind the roll call.

"We had long called for a public debate on this matter so we could determine who was truly on our side," said the Empire State Pride Agenda in a statement. "If you cannot support us, we will find candidates for public office who do."

The National Organization for Marriage, which is based in New Jersey but has offices in Virginia, was even more explicit, warning ahead of the vote that it would raise $500,000 to defeat any Republican senator who broke ranks on the issue. The heading on the group's news release read: "Vote for Gay Marriage and We Will Fund a Primary Challenge."

Gallagher said the group spent $600,000 opposing the effort, mostly on robo-calls in districts of senators thought to be on the fence.

She said, "This helps us in New Hampshire," where a coalition that includes Catholic bishops will attempt to reverse the same-sex marriage law as that state's legislative election season opens.

"We might even make it in Vermont," Gallagher added.

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