New York Democrats refuse to give in on gay marriage

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A power struggle between Democrats in the New York State Senate that at one point threatened the party’s commitment to gay marriage continues.

Three Senators have been refusing to back the current Minority Leader Malcolm A Smith.

Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr from the Bronx wanted to split the roles of President of the Senate and Majority Leader, normally held by one person.

He proposed that he become Majority Leader, while Senator Smith would become the first African-American President pro tempore of the Senate.

The Democrats will take control of the New York State Senate for the first time in 40 years in January, if they can get the support of three rebels in the Senate: Espada, Ruben Diaz Sr and Carl Kruger.

They were all seeking influential appointments in return for their support.

The New York Times reported last week:

“Mr Diaz is now confident that there will be no vote in the Senate next year on legislation to legalise gay marriage, something which most Senate Democrats support but which Mr Diaz strongly opposes.”

Today Senator Smith said that the deal is off.

“I am announcing that the Democratic Members of the Senate have elected to cease negotiations on reorganisation matters with all three Senators as discussed both in private and in the press,” he told a Manhattan press conference.

“We are suspending negotiations, effective immediately, because to do so otherwise would reduce our moral standing and the long-term Senate Democratic commitment to reform and to change.

“We believe that ultimately, we must do what is right for the people of the State of New York.

“Furthermore, real reform cannot and should not ever include limiting the civil rights of any New Yorkers. Those issues must be part of the legislative process.

“The members of this Conference have come a long way to consider the demands placed on the table.

“But frankly, we would rather wait two more years to take charge of the Senate than to simply serve the interests of the few.

“New York State cannot afford the type of self-serving politics being proposed and I will not be the leader to sacrifice what is right for New York for a quick political solution.”

Senator Diaz claimed that both state Governor David Paterson and Senator Smith gave him assurances last week that gay marriage legislation would be shelved as part of the deal.

The Democrats had promised legislation to legalise gay marriage if they took power.

In June 2007 the New York State Assembly voted 85 to 61 in favour of a marriage equality bill.

The bill stalled under the Senate.

“Senator Smith is a long-time, strong advocate for full equality for all New Yorkers, including the LGBT community,” said Joe Solmonese, president of leading US gay equality organisation, Human Rights Campaign.

“We are confident that he will continue his strong record of support as Senate President.

“One crucial step on the road to full equality for the LGBT community is, of course, marriage equality.

“Since there have been rumours about how the marriage equality bill may, or may not, move ahead next year,

“I call on Senator Smith to make clear that, when the votes are there in the Senate, he will bring the marriage bill up for a vote.”

Gay marriage is legal in two US states, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

It was legal in California after a state Supreme Court decision in May.

Voters in the state approved a ballot measure denying same-sex couples the right to marry in November.

The ballot’s legality is being challenged in the state Supreme Court.