Monday, February 9, 2009

Smith discusses New York marriage timeline at HRC dinner

An early taste of spring this weekend helped to temper the often bitter cold that has blanketed the five boroughs in recent weeks, but Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's comments at the Human Rights Campaign's annual New York dinner on Saturday reminded activists, observers and pundits alike the issue of marriage for same-sex couples remains all too present in the state.

Smith, who assumed the helm of the state Senate last month after a handful of dissident Democrats had threatened to derail his election, said there are not enough votes in his conference to pass legislation that would extend marriage to same-sex couples. The Democrat-controlled state Assembly passed a bill former Gov. Eliot Spitzer introduced in 2007. Governor David Paterson and Smith himself have repeatedly reaffirmed their support of nuptials for same-sex couples, but the Senate Majority Leader's comments are a clear indication barriers remain in the push to extend marriage to gay and lesbian New Yorkers.

Smith's comments are similar to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement at the HRC's 2005 New York benefit at the Waldorf Astoria his administration had decided to appeal Justice Doris Ling-Cohan's ruling in the Hernandez v. Robles case that concluded the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples violated New York's Constitution. She issued her decision the day before, and the mayor's decision obviously upset many inside the banquet hall. The clear fact remains, however, the state is arguably much closer to the legalization of marriage for gay and lesbian New Yorkers than it has ever been before. Smith clearly needs to manage expectations as he leads his party through the economic crisis, the perennial budget battle and other pressing issues that face him and his colleagues in Albany and in their home districts, but his comments can be interpreted as a challenge to activists and their supporters to do what they need to do in order to ensure the bill has enough votes in the Senate.

Stay tuned!

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