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From the archives: Same sex marriage bill dies in NYS Senate

ALBANY - This story was originally published in Newsday on Dec. 3, 2009

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A bill to legalize same-sex marriage died yesterday in the State Senate, dashing activists' hopes New York would become the sixth state to permit gay and lesbian couples to wed.

In a 38-24 vote, senators from both political parties defeated the marriage bill that hours earlier had passed in the Assembly for the third time since 2007. In the Senate, eight Democrats joined the entire 30-member Republican minority in voting down the measure.

Advocates and opponents of same-sex unions agreed afterward that senators' worries about next year's elections had affected the vote. All 62 are up for re-election and Republicans must regain the majority if they are to have any influence over redrawing legislative district boundaries in 2011.

The roll-call vote came after a 2 1/2-hour debate punctuated by emotional stories of racial and religious discrimination, family members shunned for being gay and references to civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr.

Of the 19 speakers, none were Republican and only Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx), spoke against the bill.

There were gasps and tears from the audience as Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx) recounted how her late brother's homosexuality had estranged him from their religious family. Her mother and sister are both ministers.

Hassell-Thompson searched for her brother, eventually finding him in France in a long-term relationship with another man. "My sister would not agree with my decision ... but nobody elected me to be the moral arbitrator of their decisions."

Of Long Island's nine senators, only Democrats Craig Johnson of Port Washington and Brian X. Foley of Blue Point backed the marriage bill.

"This bill is about love; it's not an attack on our religious liberties," Johnson said. Foley, who had been on the fence, said the debate moved him to vote yes.

The Senate action followed a referendum in Maine that nixed a same-sex marriage law. Electorates in 31 states have rejected gay and lesbian unions. Last month, conservatives drove GOP Assemb. Dierdre Scozzafava from an upstate congressional race in part because of her votes for gay marriage.

On the Senate floor, Diaz gently sparred with Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), the bill's main sponsor and the only openly gay senator.

"The majority of people of this nation have opposed ... same-sex marriage," Diaz said, adding judges and legislatures - not voters - had legalized gay and lesbian unions in five states. "I say, 'Let the people decide.'"

Duane urged his colleagues to grant him and his partner Louis Webre the same 1,324 rights enjoyed by married heterosexuals.

When his bill failed by an unexpectedly large margin, Duane said senators had gone back on promises to support it. "I wasn't expecting to be betrayed," he said. "So, I have some anger, but that's going to propel me. I'm not going to give up."

Locally, supporters of gay marriage vowed to work against Republican incumbents in 2010. David Kilmnick of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth said GOP senators who didn't participate in the debate were "cowards. ... These folks should not be representing us."

Asked why he voted the marriage bill down, Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) said he had spent time researching the issue and felt "this was the right way to vote for society."

Richard Barnes, director of the New York State Catholic Conference, expressed gratitude to Johnson and others. "There is no question that marriage by its nature is the union of one man and one woman," he said.

With Reid J. Epstein

HOW LI SENATORS VOTED

The State Senate yesterday defeated a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, 38-24. The measure has passed the Assembly three times since 2007, most recently yesterday morning.

FOR THE BILL

Sen. Brian X. Foley

(D-Blue Point)

Sen. Craig Johnson

(D-Port Washington)

AGAINST THE BILL

Sen. John Flanagan

(R-East Northport)

Sen. Charles Fuschillo

(R-Merrick)

Sen. Kemp Hannon

(R-Garden City)

Sen. Owen Johnson

(R-West Babylon)

Sen. Kenneth LaValle

(R-Port Jefferson)

Sen. Carl Marcellino

(R-Syosset)

Sen. Dean Skelos

(R-Rockville Centre)

THE RIGHTS THAT COME WITH RITES

The bill voted down in the State Senate yesterday would have conferred on same-sex couples in New York State 1,324 legal rights now enjoyed by married heterosexual couples here. The rights include:

PERMIT a spouse to help determine the care of an ill spouse, including bedside visits in the hospital

PROHIBIT one spouse from disinheriting the other

GUARANTEE the legitimacy of children and provide for custody and visitation in case of divorce

GRANT authority to help determine the care of an ill child

PROTECT against a spouse being compelled to testify in court about conversations within their marriage

REQUIRE alimony payments in case of divorce

EASE the donation of organs of deceased spouse

ENSURE the Workers' Compensation and other entitlement benefits of a deceased spouse go to the surviving spouse

WHERE IT'S LEGAL

Five states have legalized same-sex marriage:

Connecticut

Iowa

Massachusetts

New Hampshire

Vermont

- James T. Madore
 

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