By Thomas Tracy
The Assembly took a big step toward getting gay marriage legalized in New York Tuesday by passing the watershed Marriage Equality bill.
The bill passed the Assembly floor by a solid margin with a vote of 85 to 61.
The vote came after advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender causes in Brooklyn as well as around the state bandied together to get their local Assembly members to approve the measure, which was initiated by Governor Eliot Spitzer.
In essence, the bill will amend the domestic relations law in relation to the ability to marry, by giving same sex couples the legal right to wed. It would also insure that the bill “does not improperly intrude into matters of conscience or religious belief,” meaning that clergy and religious leaders would not be compelled to perform same-sex marriages if they don’t want to.
Over 50 Assembly members sponsored the bill, including downtown Brooklyn legislators Joan Millman, James Brennan, Joe Lentol, Hakeem Jefferies, Felix Ortiz and Kings County Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez.
According to an unofficial tally of the vote, all of the above legislators voted in favor of the bill as well as Assembly members William Boyland, Jenelle Hyer-Spencer, Rhoda Jacobs and Alan Maisel.
Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, who was chair of the committee that brought the bill to the floor, also voted in favor of the bill.
Brooklyn Assembly members Peter Abatte, Bill Colton, Steven Cymbrowitz, Diane Gordon and Dov Hikind voted against the bill. Crown Heights Assemblymember Karim Camara and Brighton Beach legislator Alec Brook-Krasny abstained when the vote was called.
“The Assembly has demonstrated once again that it is the leader on civil rights and providing equality for our community where it didn’t exist before in New York,” said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, which has been working with other gay political groups to get the bill passed.
Van Capelle said that the vote came about thanks to a “bipartisan group of Assembly allies from Western New York to the Hudson Valley to New York City and Long Island who spoke strongly to say that New Yorkers want marriage equality for all families.”
Although the vote passed the Assembly, advocates said that the bigger fight is yet to come – winning the hearts and minds of the members of the Republican controlled New York State Senate.
As this paper went to press, Senate officials said that they will not vote on this bill this session, which ends this week.
“The [Assembly] passage of the marriage equality bill affirms the strength and commitment of our relationships with the legislature and the value and worth of our children and families,” said Cathy Marino Thomas, executive director of Marriage Equality New York. “Unfortunately, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno feels the need to play politics with this issue.”
Gary Parker, co-president of the Lambda Independent Democrats (LID), Brooklyn’s largest LGBT political club, said that the Assembly took “a courageous step in voting for Marriage Equality for all New Yorkers.”
“It is particularly heartening that a vast majority of Brooklyn’s Assembly members voted in favor of legal recognition of our families,” he said. “However, our work is far from done. LID will continue to work with the legislators who made the disappointing decision to vote against this important legislation. We will also work tirelessly to ensure that a democratic majority is brought to the State Senate as quickly as possible.”
“Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s refusal to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate will ultimately lead the Republicans towards becoming the minority party in the Senate,” he added. “Justice is on our side and it is only a matter of time until all Brooklynites are treated equally under the law.”