Republicans could play decisive role in New York marriage bill

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Friday May 1, 2009

More than 2,000 activists and their supporters from across the state gathered in Albany earlier this week to lobby lawmakers to back legislation that would allow gay and lesbian New Yorkers to marry. And while these efforts will certainly continue increase in the coming weeks, Republican legislators could play a critical role in whether marriage for same-sex couples becomes a reality in the Empire State.

State Assemblymember Janet Duprey [R-Peru] is among the Republicans who back marriage for same-sex couples. She voted against the marriage bill former Gov. Eliot Spitzer introduced in 2007, but Duprey pledged to "continue to study the issue, meet with constituents and keep an open mind as a result of the information presented to me since becoming a member of the Assembly."

Duprey was quick to endorse the bills Gov. David Paterson introduced earlier this month in both the Assembly and state Senate.

"After hours of conversations, meetings and reading, I have come to the firm conclusion that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be treated equally," she said in a press release. "Civil unions simply do not provide that equality in more than 1,300 legal categories."

Republican Assemblymembers Teresa Sayward of Willsboro, Joel Miller of Poughkeepsie and Dede Scozzafava of Gouverneur have also said they support nuptials for same-sex couples.

"The sense in Albany among all republicans is that gay marriage is inevitable."

"A vote for marriage is a very Republican and conservative one," Sayward told a group of gay Republicans at an East Village fundraiser last September. "We believe government should stay out of people's lives and let them live in quiet dignity."

Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno [R-Saratoga Springs] blocked Spitzer's bill. His successor, Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos [R-Rockville Centre] remains opposed to marriage for same-sex couples, but he announced after Paterson introduced his bill he would allow his GOP colleagues to vote their conscience.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith [D-St. Albans, Queens] has maintained he remains unsure whether enough Democrats in his caucus would back Paterson's bill, but Gregory Angelo, a spokesperson for Log Cabin Republicans of New York, told EDGE he feels GOP legislators across the state have begun to realize marriage for same-sex couples will eventually become a reality in the Empire State.

"The sense in Albany among all Republicans is that gay marriage is inevitable," he said.

Angelo was also quick to downplay any potential political risks a Republican would face if he or she backed marriage for same-sex couples.

"Over 30 Republican legislators have stood up for marriage equality in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont and none of those people who voted for marriage lost re-election in their respective cycle," he said. "The idea that a Republican who is for gay marriage has put themselves on the hot seat is a bit overblown."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.