June 29, 2009 / 8:56 PM / 10 years ago

Power struggle impedes New York gay marriage vote

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York’s annual Gay Pride parade was a colorful celebration of 40 years of progress toward civil rights for gays, but once the dust settled, gay couples who wish to marry in New York state remain thwarted.

Men dressed in tuxedo jackets to emulate grooms at a wedding wave flags touting their 30 years in a relationship together as a form of support for gay marriage, in the annual Gay Pride Parade in New York June 28, 2009. REUTERS/Jacob Silberberg

A bill to legalize gay marriage in the state that saw the dawn of the gay rights movement is mired in political stalemate in the state capital Albany, where Democrats and Republicans are battling over control of the state Senate.

“I had hoped today’s march would have been a bit of a wedding march. It’s not,” Christine Quinn, the gay speaker of the New York City Council, said at Sunday’s Gay Pride parade. Held annually, this year’s event marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village, which triggered the modern U.S. gay rights movement.

“We are disappointed. ... But I know there have been other times our community has been disappointed and you need to keep fighting,” Quinn said at the start of the parade, which organizers said drew more than a million people.

Gay couples can marry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa and will be allowed marry in Vermont starting in September and in New Hampshire from January. Other states offer same-sex unions that grant many of the same rights as marriage.

Forty-two U.S. states explicitly prohibit gay marriage, including 29 with constitutional amendments, according to Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group.

In May, the New York state Assembly, where Democrats hold a majority, voted by a wide margin to legalize gay marriage.

On June 8, state Senate Republicans engineered a coup by getting two Democrats to switch allegiance and vote in a new leadership, effectively erasing the slim 32-30 majority the Democrats won in the November 2008 election.

But Democrats have refused to recognize the leadership vote and one of the senators has since rejoined the Democrats, creating an even 31-31 split in the chamber.

New York Governor David Paterson has vowed to bring gay marriage to a state Senate vote before the end of the current legislative session — which has already been extended due to the deadlock. But Paterson can not force a vote, and it is not clear if it would pass, or even if such a vote would be legal.

Even the state’s main gay rights organization has called on the Senate to resolve the leadership dispute first and not treat gay marriage as “a political football.” With no immediate prospect of a resolution to the crisis, supporters of the bill are left wondering if it will come to a vote this year.

“There certainly have been moments of high adrenaline and great disappointment ... but I’m always optimistic,” said Senator Tom Duane, the bill’s sponsor, at Sunday’s parade.

Many at Sunday’s parade said they thought gay marriage was inevitable in New York.

“I think every year we see great advances. I mean, this year New Hampshire passed gay marriage and Iowa, of all places,” said Brent Hayrynen, 63. “We’ll get there.”

Reporting by Edith Honan; editing by Claudia Parsons and Todd Eastham

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