Friday, April 24, 2009

Queens Senators Not Behind Governors Gay Marriage Bill by Ben Hogwood - Queens Chronicle

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Gov. David Paterson introduces legislation that would allow same-sex marriage at a news conference last week. (photo courtesy of the governor’s office)

Gov. David Paterson unveiled a gay marriage proposal last week to much fanfare, but that excitement is not shared by several local politicians.

This week, the Queens Chronicle contacted the borough’s seven senators for their opinion on the legislation. Of those, three said they opposed the bill, one was undecided, one was in support and the remaining two did not return calls.

While majority leader Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) supports the bill, his spokesman, Austin Shafran, said the senator will not bring it to the floor unless he knows it will succeed; right now that doesn’t appear likely. “We don’t believe there are sufficient votes at this time to pass the marriage equality bill,” Shafran said. “As soon as the votes can be secured, we will bring it up for a vote.”

Paterson, however, wants to see it voted on with or without knowing the end result, hoping national momentum will get it through. Paterson’s bill comes shortly after Vermont and Iowa legalized gay marriage.

Some Republicans would have to cross party lines to pass the bill, as several Democrats, including Queens Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria), have declared their opposition. A spokesman for Onorato confirmed his opposition on Friday, but did not elaborate, nor did the senator return calls.

Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) also said she does not support the bill. Huntley said her decision is largely based on her religious beliefs. “I just don’t believe in it,” she said. “I’ve had a large influx of calls and letters from constituents who asked me not to support it.”

And that Republican support won’t come from Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), the only GOP member from Queens in either state house. Padavan said he agreed with the state Court of Appeals when it ruled in 2006 that gay marriage is not allowed under law. That decision states that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples could be based on rational social goals, primarily the protection and welfare of children.

Padavan was critical of Paterson’s decision to introduce the legislation now, when he believes there are bigger issues that need addressing — specifically the MTA crisis and the state budget.

That was a position echoed by Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). Addabbo represents the southern and mid Queens neighborhoods of Middle Village, Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Howard Beach, Glendale and Maspeth — areas that are historically conservative. Addabbo won the seat after defeating former Sen. Serphin Maltese, a Republican who held the position for 20 years, in 2008.

Addabbo said he has yet to make a decision on the legislation and will speak with people in the district for input. Still, he said this is hardly the time to be discussing gay marriage, citing the previous issues as well as problems closer to home, such as the closure of hospitals in the borough and redevelopment plans for Aqueduct Raceway, which is expected to become a “racino” with video lottery terminals — basically slot machines — in the near future.

“I truly believe there are priorities to be set and gay marriage is not a priority at this time,” Addabbo said.

Senators who did not return calls were Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-Elmhurst) and Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing).

The governor’s bill is much the same as one passed in the Assembly in 2007. Three of the borough’s representatives voted against it at that time, including Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) and Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill).

The governor introduced the legislation on April 16, framing it not as a gay issue but rather a civil rights concern.

“Marriage equality is about basic civil rights and personal freedom,” Paterson said in a prepared statement. “Too many individuals face discrimination every single day. Too many loving families do not receive the legal recognition they deserve.”

The bill would amend the Domestic Relations Law to give same-sex couples the opportunity to enter into civil marriages, qualifying them for 1,324 state rights on issues such as property ownership, inheritance, healthcare and insurance coverage.

A poll from the Siena Research Institute released Monday found that the majority of New Yorkers support the bill, with a margin of 53 to 39 percent. Democrats, independent and young voters and women strongly support Senate passage, while men, older voters, African Americans and Protestants were more often opposed, the poll found.