After Talks With G.O.P., Cuomo Expects Passage of Gay Marriage Bill
By DANNY HAKIM and THOMAS KAPLAN
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday that he expected same-sex marriage legislation to be approved before the end of the legislative session next week, and indicated that to win passage of the measure he is prepared to yield to Republican concerns for greater protections of religious groups.
“I am a proponent of marriage equality, and I’m working very hard to make that a reality in New York,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters on Friday as lawmakers prepared to go home for the weekend. “I am also a proponent of religious freedom, and separation of church and state, so these are both very important principles. I don’t see one in competition with the other.”
With signs pointing to a vote on the marriage issue in the State Senate next week, there are widespread expectations that it will pass. A number of Republicans are said to prefer that the matter not be allowed to come up for a vote, but 31 of the Senate’s 62 members have expressed support for the measure, including two Republicans.
Other Republican lawmakers appear to be seriously considering lending their support if Mr. Cuomo agrees to amend the proposal to give greater protection to religious organizations.
The State Assembly passed the same-sex marriage bill on Wednesday.
Talks between Mr. Cuomo and Republican senators are said to focus on a relatively narrow issue. The legislation proposed by the governor includes exemptions for religious organizations and affiliated charities or nonprofit groups to protect them from litigation if they refuse to host or provide services for same-sex weddings.
But Senate Republicans want further provisions to protect such organizations from any repercussions from state agencies, that might deny aid or benefits based on discrimination.
“There is a concern right now as to the unintended consequences of some of the religious clauses, carve-outs, protections,” said the Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican.
“Governor Cuomo has been most gracious in terms of listening to some of these concerns,” Mr. Skelos added. “I think he’s doing the right thing by doing that, and those concerns will continue to be addressed.”
Senator Stephen M. Saland, a Hudson Valley Republican who is seen as one of the most likely tie-breaking votes, is one of the lead negotiators for the Senate Republicans over the marriage issue. Both the governor and the Republicans described negotiations as cordial and productive.
Mr. Cuomo did not address specific concerns in his comments to reporters, but said he was prepared to respond to the Senate’s concerns.
“They want to make sure that the line between church and state is intact and is clear, and that however the state defines marriage is the state’s business and it will not be imposed on a religion,” he said. “That is a very important point, and I am as equally concerned about that as I am in achieving marriage equality. That was the main — and that is the main — area of concern for the senators, Republicans senators. We’ve had good meetings. We’ve had good discussions. I believe we can address their concerns without going over the line.”
The exemptions Senate Republicans are seeking are similar to those in the same-sex marriage law in New Hampshire, a model that Senate Republicans have studied. Same-sex marriage advocates appear willing to agree to language changes to make a deal.
Ross D. Levi, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said: “The states that have passed either marriage or civil unions have a range from either nothing — Iowa and Massachusetts have no religious exemptions — to very, very extensive, and I think what the governor is working on is finding that balance. And I agree that it’s appropriate to find that balance.”
Tensions over the religious implications of same-sex marriage legislation were heightened on Friday when Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the state’s top Roman Catholic leader, called in to an Albany radio talk show to warn that the proposed legislation posed an “ominous threat” to society.
Archbishop Dolan, who had played a low-key role in the debate, was in Seattle on Friday, but dispatched Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn to Albany in a last-ditch effort to influence the Senate’s Republican majority. Nonetheless, Archbishop Dolan sounded somewhat pessimistic about the outcome.
“We’re realistic to know the forces pushing this are very strong,” he said on WGDJ-AM. “They’re well oiled. They’re well financed.”
However, he said: “It’s not a done deal. There is a good chance that this is not going to pass this year.”
Mr. Cuomo told reporters he believed that religious concerns should be separated from a debate over civil marriage. “I happen to be a Catholic, and that’s my business, and that’s my religion,” he said. “This has nothing to do with my beliefs as a Catholic. This is marriage in a civil context — marriage as defined by government, not by a religion.”
Likening the prohibition on same-sex marriage to earlier bans on interracial marriage, Mr. Cuomo said he was encouraged after talks with Republican lawmakers and confident that a marriage measure and his broader agenda would both be approved next week. “This state has a proud tradition and a proud legacy as the progressive capital of the nation,” he said in a hallway outside his office. “We led the way, and it’s time for New York to lead the way once again.”
The regular legislative session was scheduled to end on Monday, but it is expected to be extended further into next week.
This is frustrating. While I agree in principle that religious organizations - as part of separation of church and state - should be able to conduct themselves at their own discretion with respect to individuals they don't like. However, I've no doubt that many of the religious charities and organizations most likely receive state and federal funding...and they want to be exempted from discrimination laws even more strongly? Yeah, no.
This is a step forward and even a baby step for a Republican is a baby step, but all the caveats offend my sense of ethics and human rights.