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February 10, 2009


When New York Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith took to the podium in a hotel ballroom in Manhattan last Saturday, expectations were very, very high. The room was packed with hundreds of gay-rights advocates, fund-raisers and politicians.

Hopes that he would announce that a gay marriage bill was finally being reintroduced to a now friendly senate and a ready-to-sign, friendly Governor had reached an almost fevered pitch. And justifiably so. The GLBT community had worked very long and very hard to change the dominate make-up of the senate from anti-gay Republicans to gay-friendly Democrats. Huge amounts of campaign monies were raised from our community to make sure that that battle would be won. And it was.

When Smith was finally able to speak after quieting anticipatory applause and cheers, his message was a resounding blow to the fervently unbridled optimism that filled the room.

“Although we do not have the number of votes at this time needed to pass the marriage equality gender bill this legislative session, we are committed to pursuing its passage.”

Smith's assessment was a sobering dose of reality for all of the gay rights supporters who had helped Democrats win control of the Senate for the first time since 1965.

As The New York Times reported:

“It’s very disappointing,” said Matthew Titone, a Democratic assemblyman who represents Staten Island and who listened to Mr. Smith’s speech, which was delivered at a fund-raiser for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization.

“Even if they don’t have the votes, that’s really no excuse for the leader not to crack the whip, get them in line and remind them that the only reason they’re in the majority is because of the gay community,” Mr. Titone said.

Even though Titone's sentiments were completely understandable, not everyone was quite as angry or pessimistic.

“I haven’t given up hope that it’s going to happen,” said Senator Thomas K. Duane, a Manhattan Democrat. “We’re still counting votes and lobbying. I’d say the situation is very fluid.”

Mr. Duane added, “I think he’s conservatively estimating next year.”

Indeed, some pointed to the experience in the Assembly in 2007, when supporters of a same-sex marriage bill initially fell far short of the votes they needed.

“We didn’t have the votes in February of 2007,” said Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, who represents the Upper West Side. “But by June of 2007, we’d passed it. And people said we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride group said,

“I think we are closer than most people think.” He also said that he viewed Mr. Smith’s remarks as a way to “manage expectations” of those who expected a quick victory.

He added: “I think it’s a good wake-up call for the L.G.B.T. community to understand that it’s not the majority leader’s job to get the votes. It’s our job.”

If you live in New York, contact the Empire State Pride Agenda at prideagenda.org and find out what you can do to help this happen THIS year.