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New York’s state Assembly approves gay marriage bill

by Marc Humbert
Wednesday Jun 20, 2007
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Legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in New York, sponsored by the openly gay brother of entertainer Rosie O’Donnell and supported by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, was approved 85-61 by the state Assembly Tuesday after an often emotional three-hour debate.

Despite the victory for supporters of the legislation, the bill is not expected to be acted on any time soon in the Republican-led state Senate.

In opening the Assembly debate, Manhattan Democrat Daniel O’Donnell told his colleagues that civil union, a process permitted in neighboring Vermont, wasn’t good enough.

"It will not provide equality for people like me," he said.

But Assemblyman Brian Kolb, taking note of "the nuns who taught me in grammar school" and his marriage in the Catholic Church, said he could not support the move.

"I do feel threatened. I do feel harmed," said the Canandaigua Republican. "It’s a direct challenge to me and how I was brought up."

Democrat Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, warned the measure could lead to other proposals he found objectionable.

"Maybe we should include incest in the bill and sort of deal with the whole package at one time," said Hikind.

As the debate wound down, Teresa Sayward spoke emotionally of the struggles faced by her gay son as he grew up wanting "to be normal." She pleaded with fellow Assembly members to back the bill.

"Let’s search our hearts tonight and do the right thing," said the Glens Falls area Republican as her colleagues rose to applaud her.

As the voting ended, openly gay Staten Island Democrat Matthew Titone rose with his cell phone in his hand.

"I have my partner here on the phone and he just asked me to marry him," Titone, only elected in March, told the chamber.

"My answer, Madam Speaker, is yes," said Titone to a round of applause.

Titone was one of the 81 Democrats supporting the measure that was also backed by four Republicans - Sayward, Joel Miller of Dutchess County, Diedre Scozzafava of St. Lawrence County and Michael Spano of Westchester County.

Same-sex marriage is legal only in Massachusetts. The California Legislature approved a measure to allow gay marriage in 2005, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"We not doing gay marriage by Thursday that’s for sure, or this year," Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno declared Tuesday morning as lawmakers wound down their annual legislative session, which is due to wrap up on Thursday.

New Yorkers are split over the gay marriage issues. A statewide poll out Tuesday from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found 35 percent of registered voters supported gay marriage while another 35 percent supported civil unions but not same-sex marriage. Twenty-two percent of voters said there should be no legal recognition of same-sex unions.

O’Donnell said that he had high hopes the Senate, and Bruno, would eventually come around.

"I’m hopeful he can be educated," the assemblyman said.

O’Donnell said he and his partner of 26 years, John Banta, director of special events for the American Ballet Theatre, were looking forward to the day when the measure might be signed into law.

"We would get married tomorrow, if we could," O’Donnell said.

As the Assembly prepared to debate the measure, New York’s Roman Catholic bishops issued a statement in opposition.

"The Catholic Church teaches that we treat our homosexual sisters and brothers with dignity and love ... However, marriage is not some political term of art that can be re-imagined or redefined according to the whims of popular culture," said a statement issued by the New York State Catholic Conference, the church’s lobbying arm.

Democrat Spitzer said that while the same-sex marriage legislation was still important to him, he wouldn’t be making any special effort to have the Senate act quickly on the measure.

"There are a number of issues that I think could potentially be resolved by Thursday and my focus right now is to see if we can get clarity and closure on those," Spitzer said.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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