Power struggle complicates NY bid for gay marriage

Wed Nov 26, 2008 11:47am EST
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York is close to becoming the first state to pass legislation making gay marriage legal but, like many political issues in the state capital Albany, it has fallen victim to a power struggle.

Democrats won a majority in the upper house Senate for the first time in more than 40 years in the November 4 election, but three Democratic senators refuse to back fellow Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith as majority leader without concessions.

The Republicans could regain their power in the Senate if the three Democratic senators, who include longtime gay marriage opponent Sen. Ruben Diaz, opt to vote with them.

"I will not give my vote to a leader that will bring gay marriage to the state," Diaz, a Pentecostal minister, said in an interview. "Have a voter referendum. Let the people decide."

Connecticut and Massachusetts are the only states that allow same-sex marriage as a result of court rulings. No state legislature has instituted gay marriage into law.

After Californian voters passed Prop 8 on November 4 reversing the state's Supreme Court decision in May to allow same-sex marriage, the next battleground state for gay marriage is expected to be New York. The New York Assembly passed a marriage bill in June 2007 but the Senate has yet to act.

The Senate power struggle has delayed appointment of a majority leader until January and upset gay rights activists who believed gay marriage would be legalized once Democrats took control of the Senate.

Albany has a reputation for bickering and power struggles, which critics say was demonstrated when the legislature last week rejected Democratic Gov. David Paterson's emergency budget cuts for many reasons, including the Senate leadership battle.   Continued...

<p>Newlyweds Sharon Papo (R) and Amber Weiss walk through City Hall after exchanging wedding vows in San Francisco, California June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Erin Siegal</p>