Democratic Senate leadership reportedly strikes marriage from legislative agenda

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Friday December 5, 2008

An agreement reached between state Sen. Malcolm Smith [D-St. Albans] and a handful of dissident Democrats over his presumptive election as Senate Majority Leader has reportedly pushed marriage for same-sex couples off next year's legislative agenda.

Businessman Thomas Golisano and Congressman Gregory Meeks convened a meeting between Smith, state Sens. Ruben Diaz, Sr., [D-Bronx] and Carl Kruger [D-Brooklyn] and Senator-elect Pedro Espada, Jr., [D-Bronx]-dubbed the "Gang of Three" by local media-in Manhattan on Thursday. Governor David Paterson also attended a portion of the three-hour meeting.

The New York Times reported Espada would become vice chair of the powerful Rules Committee, which decides which legislation will be introduced in the Senate.

"The meeting held today involved rules changes proposed by [Sen.] Smith which will result in Senate reform and the election of Malcolm Smith as [Senate Majority] Leader," Smith spokesperson Hank Sheinkopf said in a statement.

"We would expect that any rumors that marriage equality was somehow a part of this deal are just that-rumors."

He did not say whether marriage was discussed during the meeting, but the Daily News reported Smith will not introduce a marriage bill. The newspaper added he would announce the legislation does not have sufficient support to pass in the Senate.

A Smith staffer who asked to remain anonymous declined to disclose to EDGE whether the announcement would provide political cover for the agreement the presumptive Senate Majority Leader reached with Diaz, Espada and Kruger to not introduce the bill. Democrats control both legislative houses and the governor's office for the first time since the Great Depression. The Assembly passed a marriage bill in June 2007. And local activists remain confident the Senate will vote on the issue next year.

"We are still awaiting the final details of the announced state Senate leadership deal," Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle said in a statement released shortly after news of the agreement broke. "We would expect that any rumors that marriage equality was somehow a part of this deal are just that-rumors."

Smith has repeatedly expressed his support for marriage for same-sex couples. Marriage Equality New York executive director Cathy Marino-Thomas added she feels this position has not changed.

"We are awaiting confirmation from [Sen.] Smith that his promise to bring marriage equality to the Senate floor for a vote once there is confirmation that this bill as the votes to pass is a fact," she said. "In the meantime, we must continue to work to bring the New York State Senators to our side of this issue."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.