Gay Math

Photo: Mike Groll/AP

“You can get married in Davenport but not in Manhattan!” says Marty Rouse, the Human Rights Campaign’s national field director. It’s an improbable predicament: Who’d ever guess we’d be playing catch-up to the Midwest? But, the setback in California aside, the great gay race to the altar is on: Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont have all made it official; New Hampshire and Maine are on the cusp; and the next logical state in line is New York. Governor Paterson has introduced marriage-equality legislation, and a State Assembly committee brought the bill to the floor, where it should easily pass. (In 2007, it made it through with an 85-61 vote, which included both Republicans and Democrats.) But the State Senate is far more resistant.

Here’s the arithmetic as it currently stands: The Democrats have a 32-30 majority, but seven of them have said (or hinted) that they oppose the bill (including Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., who actually held an anti-gay-marriage rally in the Bronx last week). Only one Republican, Senator James S. Alesi of Rochester, is on the record supporting the measure, which puts it at least six votes short of victory. (Because of Paterson’s elevation, there’s no extra lieutenant-governor vote to break a tie.)

So who might those votes come from? Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, suggests four of the seven Democrats in the “nay” camp are actually movable: Senators George Onorato of Astoria, William T. Stachowski of Buffalo, David J. Valesky of Oneida, and Shirley L. Huntley of Jamaica. In 2007, Van Capelle says, Democratic Assembly members like Joe Lentol opposed the bill initially but ended up voting for it. “So we know that when we do the work that needs to be done, which includes giving the facts and telling our stories, people can change their minds.”

If those four come around, only two Republicans will be needed to pass the measure—though lobbyists hope for more. “Nobody wants to be the one person to change the vote,” said Marriage Equality New York head Ron Zacchi. The current legislative session ends June 22, so there’s still time for persuading. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has said already he won’t let the measure hit the floor unless the votes are there.

Two Republicans immediately come to mind. Senator Thomas P. Morahan of Rockland County told the Times through a spokesman that he’s “not going to come out one way or the other,” which supporters view as promising. And though Senator Kemp Hannon of Nassau County told the paper that he’s inclined to oppose the bill, he added that it “deserves serious consideration.” To lobby groups, that’s the definition of “movable.” (Several others have yet to say anything about their positions.)

Viewed this way, the numbers seem attainable. But Van Capelle is worried about two Democrats who hail from somewhat conservative regions and have not yet voiced a decision either way: Senators Brian X. Foley of Suffolk County and Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester. He says the two of them, plus Onorato, Stachowski, Valesky, and Huntley, are all “folks people should reach out to.”

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Gay Math