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NY Independence chair backs gay marriage

ALBANY -- The chairman of New York's Independence Party said yesterday that he personally supports the legalization of gay marriage, intensifying the political pressure on lawmakers in the State Senate who will ultimately decide the issue.

"Personally, I share that belief and support the effort to change our laws to establish marriage equality in the state," state Independence Party chairman Frank MacKay told The Associated Press.

"While the Independence Party takes no official position on this issue, we steadfastly oppose discrimination and prejudice in all its myriad forms, including efforts to deny people basic civil rights," MacKay said.

The party is New York's third largest. It has made important cross endorsements in tight races that provided ballot lines for Senate Republicans. Republicans have benefited from having the line that allows Democrats, with a nearly 2-to-1 enrollment advantage over Republicans statewide, to vote for a Republican without having to use the GOP line.

MacKay's statement could be a key in the critical vote in the Republican-controlled Senate this year because the Conservative Party strongly opposes the measure. Some Republicans essential to the bill's passage could now have to choose between the two parties' powerful, sometimes essential, endorsements.

"No Republicans wants to lose either the Conservative or Independence line," said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll, which shows popular support for gay marriage. "It puts them between the proverbial rock and a hard place . . . the politics is a lose-lose."

Sen. John Flanagan of East Northport is one of many Republicans who have won with the Conservative and Independence lines.

"I respect Frank, I like him, he's been a gentleman to work with and like any other leader, particularly of his stature, I pay attention to what he says," Flanagan said yesterday.

Flanagan has consistently opposed legalizing gay marriage, but he said the conflicting stances taken by MacKay and Conservative Party chairman Michael Long add to a difficult "political calculus" for lawmakers.

The Independence Party has nearly 426,000 members. The Conservative Party has almost 147,000 members, many of them upstate and on Long Island in Senate districts represented by Republicans.

New York's leading advocate for gay rights called MacKay's statement an "enormous boost for passage of marriage equality in New York state."

"Support for marriage spans all demographics and political affiliations, including a significant plurality among independent voters," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

The staunchest opponent in the Senate, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx), also called for a public vote. But he said that contrary to polls that show support as high as 58 percent, a public vote will show greater opposition to the measure.

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