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Posts for June, 2011

Will Dean Skelos allow New York to have marriage equality?

Timothy Kincaid

June 16th, 2011

Yesterday the New York Assembly voted 80 to 63 to give same-sex couples the same access to state rights, responsibilities, and obligations of marriage as it allows its citizens in opposite sex relationships (15 Democrats voted “no” and 3 Republicans voted “yes”).

Currently there are 31 of the state’s 62 senators who have pledged their support for the marriage equality bill. Only one Democrat (Pentecostal minister Ruben Diaz) is opposed, two Republicans have indicated support and at least four more are “undecided”.

And the media is all ablaze with the entirely wrong question.

They are breathlessly wondering whether a necessary third Republican Senator can be found to vote for marriage equality. But those who seem most situated to know seem to agree that more than one of the “undecided” will vote favorably on the bill. That isn’t the question, and none of the undecided will make the decision as to whether marriage equality will come to New York.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will be the person who decides if marriage equality will be achieved.

In the New York Senate, the Majority Leader holds tremendous power. He can singly block a piece of legislation by refusing to schedule a vote. The votes may be there, but they won’t be counted unless he says so.

Skelos has said that he will defer to the will of the Republican caucus. If his Senators want a vote, he’ll have one, if they don’t he won’t. And for the past two days they have been caucusing, only to announce that they have no decision. They will meet again tomorrow.

But this too is a bit less democratic than it might seem. A party leader can, in many circumstances, inform his caucus that they need to rally around and support his decision.

Much of the decision as to whether the New York State Senate will vote on, and pass, the marriage equality bill will be based on whether Skelos determines that allowing the bill will be less politically damaging than blocking the bill.

If he allows a vote, some of the Party’s “base” will blame him and other senators for not serving the conservative cause. But in a state where marriage is popular, and rapidly becoming more so, blocking the vote could ring a sour note with the voters and leave them with the image of an obstructionist party. And a good many people who are not all that vested one way or the other are sympathetic to the complaint, “They wouldn’t even let me vote!”

And to complicate matters more, the largest donors to Republicans in the State of New York are decidedly on the side of equality. Mayor Bloomberg, the single largest contributor to Republicans in the state, has been applying pressure, and other contributors have been showing where their alliances fall through financial support for the legal team seeking to overturn Proposition 8.

AT some point tomorrow Dean Skelos will announce the decision that he believes will best continue the Republican control of the Senate, and his leadership there.

It is, of course, only a guess but I think that the winds are blowing in our favor. Skelos can step out of a caucus tomorrow and announce that a majority felt the need to vote on the matter. No one will know who to blame, and each can say “but I voted no.” The sophisticated contributor will know that this decision allowed marriage equality to come to pass, and the less so can be comforted by knowing that their own Senator stood for the good ol’ values they sent him there to support.