New York has stood struggling at the doorway of equal marriage for half a decade.
On February 12th, 2004, in California, the mayor of San Francisco issued an order to city clerks to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses.
(Jason West, Mayor of New Paltz)
On the other side of the country, Jason West, the mayor of New Paltz, New York, followed suit. He married 25 couples in front of a cheering crowd. Charges were immediately brought against him, but meanwhile the mayor of Nyack stated he would recognize the New Paltz marriages. The mayor of Ithaca declared she would recognize any same-sex marriages from other districts. West would eventually be given a permanent injunction against performing same-sex marriages.
Five lawsuits were filed against the state of New York, stating that it was unconstitutional to prohibit same-sex marriage when opposite-sex marriage was legal. Most of the suits failed – some succeeded, had stays issued, then were overturned. They were bundled into a single case that ended up at the New York Court of Appeals, which ruled in July of 2006 that there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
In 2007, a marriage bill began to work its way through the New York legislature. It began in the New York State Assembly (NY's version of the House), going first to the Judiciary Committee. It passed 16-5. It went on to the Assembly Rules Committee, and was again passed, this time 21-8. When the Assembly voted on it, it was approved 85-61.
But in the Senate, in which Republicans held a majority (and were ordered by the national GOP to vote against it), the bill stalled, and died.
After the 2008 elections, Democrats had recaptured the Senate (32 to 30), holding a majority there for the first time in 40 years. With a governor on record as supporting equal marriage, a state Assembly that had already voted the bill through in the last session, and a Dem majority in the Senate, hopes rose.
And were dashed, when three rogue Democratic Senators1 threatened not to confirm Senator Malcolm Smith as majority leader unless it was promised that there would be no gay marriage bill brought forward in this session. If those three Senators voted with the Republicans, then a majority leader would be elected that did not support marriage (as well as a host of other liberal issues).
For weeks there was a stalemate, until finally the "gang of three" broke and voted in Malcolm Smith as the majority leader. In completely unrelated news, Smith also declared that it looked like there just weren't enough votes in the Senate to pass a marriage bill in this session. Onlookers predicted that would also be true for the 2010 session, as it was an election year.
Marriage had just been successfully stalled in New York, again, for at least two years.
Then in a single week both Iowa and Vermont achieved equal marriage, and the governor of New York, David Paterson, announced that even if there weren't enough votes to pass it, he would introduce a marriage bill. This pissed off everyone – the Republicans for obvious reasons, and Democratic leadership because they'd already announced there would be no bill in this session.
Senator Diaz immediately panicked, holding a rally against the bill, enlisting the support of the new Catholic Bishop, Timothy Dolan, and calling for Governor Paterson to resign.
At the same time, much more quietly, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM, of the "Gathering Storm" ads), sent one of its Board of Directors to appear on the weekly Spanish-language show "Pura Politica" (Video 1, Video 2; both w/English subtitles). This is similar to NOM's tactics during the Prop 8 battle in California - target minority communities with higher rates of church attendance.
On the 17th of April, Paterson and his allies held a press conference about the bill. One of the speakers was New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn:
Three days later, word surfaced the Republicans in the New York legislatures would be allowed to make conscience votes - i.e., there would be no party-line voting.
The next day, in a surprise move, Paterson switched positions. He declared he would leave the bill in the hands of majority leader Malcolm Smith... the same man who had mysteriously announced there were not enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill, just after Diaz's "gang of three" had agreed to confirm him. It appeared that Paterson's bill had been political grandstanding, an attempt to resuscitate his falling approval ratings.
Until Senator Thomas Duane introduced his own marriage bill into the Senate. With Duane previously on record as saying he would not introduce the bill unless there were votes to pass it, it appeared for the first time that the struggle for equal marriage in New York may be winnable in 2009. Paterson's move was enough to kick everything into motion again, by allowing the Republicans to state openly that they would allow conscience votes, thus opening the door for Democrats to introduce the bill on their own (and this may actually be what it was intended to do).
Twin bills (from what I can tell) have been introduced in both the Assembly and Senate to expedite matters. The Assembly bill has 53 co-sponsors, and looks likely to pass.
The Senate bill has 18 co-sponsors. It needs 32 votes to pass. Rumor has it there are currently 26 confirmed "yes" votes on the Democratic side. The bill needs 6 more votes to pass.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the bill tomorrow.
What You Can Do
If you're in New York, or know people in New York, you should sign up for the Empire State Pride Agenda's action alerts.
If history is any predictor, the New York Senate vote is going to involve a lot of political jostling. The more people the organizations have that will respond to their action alerts, the more effective they'll be - particularly if you're in the district of someone who is a swing vote, or whose confidence they need to shore up, or who they might be able to convince to abstain from the vote.
1. The three senators are ringleader Ruben Diaz, Sr., Carl Kruger, and Pedro Espada, Jr.
This is sixth in a series. Here are California, Iowa (followup, conclusion), Vermont (followup, conclusion), Hawaii, and New Hampshire (followup posted later today).
Note: Obviously these posts are based on all the articles and media-gorging I've been doing on the topic. All the info is drawn from other sources, which sometimes I'll link, and sometimes I can't find again.