Two senators from Queens who were previously on the fence, publicly pledged to support a bill which, if passed, would enable same sex marriage in New York State.
The state currently recognizes same sex marriages performed outside the state and offers domestic partnerships to gay and lesbian couples, but Gov. Cuomo says this is not enough as it does not represent true equality. He said it creates legal hurdles for same sex couples and makes them feel like second class citizens.
State Sens. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) and Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) were among the last three Democrats to join the marriage equality bandwagon, the third being embattled Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) who was outed during an FBI investigation in March. All three voted against marriage equality when the issue came up in 2009.
At a press conference in Albany on Monday, Kruger gave an impassioned speech in favor of marriage equality. “What we are about to do is redefine what the American family is, and that’s a good thing,” he said, “because as the world evolves and changes around us so do we have to change with it.”
Huntley and Addabbo said they were planning to vote in favor of marriage equality because opinions in their district changed. Huntley said 60 percent of those she heard from supported same sex marriage. Addabbo said he took a poll in his district and also found overwhelming support for marriage equality.
Of constituents who weighed in, in his district 6,015 called to voice their opinion and 4,839 were in favor. Addabbo said the data was collected and tabulated by his staff through phone calls, mailers and petitions. He made sure that only people from the district were able to weigh in and created a database so that people could not be counted more than once.
“I always said my intent is to put my personal opinion aside and be the voice of my people,” Addabbo said, admitting he was surprised that so many of his constituents supported same sex marriage. “How can I ever ignore 6,000 people weighing in on the issue?” said the senator, who represents approximately 160,000 residents.
Still, Addabbo was quick to point out that same sex marriage legislation was far from a done deal.
Cuomo introduced a marriage equality bill on Monday, but on Wednesday afternoon, he still needed support from at least one more Republican senator in order for the legislation to pass.
State Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), who is also a minister and whose granddaughter is a lesbian, is the only Democrat who has vowed to vote against marriage equality.
On Wednesday, Sen. Roy McDonald (R-Saratoga) joined Sen. Jim Alesi (R-Monroe County) to pledge his support for the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) was reportedly still deciding whether or not to bring the marriage equality bill to a vote.
“We are not there yet we do need Republicans in the senate to take up this issue,” Cuomo said, adding that if passed, the legislation would inspire positive momentum.
The Assembly has already passed a marriage equality bill, so all that remains is one senator’s vote. An elected official who has likely been on the fence about same sex marriage will be the one whose vote, in many ways, matters most — a situation which Addabbo acknowledged was interesting.
To ensure that marriage equality doesn’t intrude into matters of religious belief, the act affirms that no clergy member can be compelled to solemnize any marriage. The bill also guarantees that religious institutions and benevolent organizations such as the Knights of Columbus remain free to choose who may use their facilities for celebrations or to whom they provide religious services, consistent with their principles.
Despite the limitations, openly gay Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) was optimistic. “I feel very proud that almost all Democrats stepped up to the plate,” he said. “I’ll invite you to my wedding as soon as I find the right husband.”