NEW YORK-New York conservatives were thinking through their next steps after four Republican state senators on June 24 joined Democrats in a 33-29 final vote that made New York the sixth state in the nation (plus the District of Columbia) to legalize same-sex marriage. The new law, which takes effect on July 25, will double the number of people now eligible for same-sex marriage in the United States.
Conservatives are likely to hold responsible at the polls the four Republicans who broke ranks to vote for the bill, along with majority leader Dean Skelos, who sent it to the floor for the final vote. But they are equally outraged by the closed-door tactics used to bring the controversial legislation to a vote-and what it means for future deliberations in a statehouse where Republicans hold only a slim majority in the Senate.
"All lobbyists were shut out for two weeks, then it was rammed through the voting process," said Duane Motley, a pastor who is founder and senior lobbyist of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom. During the vote, he said, state troopers guarded the chambers, with senators locked in while the public remained locked out: "They [Republicans] even let Cuomo's chief of staff on the floor to hurry the process so it was done for 11:00 news." Governor Andrew Cuomo orchestrated the campaign and brought together unlikely allies who may bolster his Democratic base-and national profile for a 2016 White House run.
Motley said lawmakers also failed to follow normal rules of debate on the question of a religious exemption. "This was the executive branch telling the legislative branch how to operate," he said, something he's not seen in 29 years of closely following statehouse politics.
Republican Sen. Stephen Saland leveraged his vote to negotiate the sentences that became the religious exemption. Saland said it was "imperative" that the law protect from legal action clergy who refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies, "so as not to interfere with religious beliefs, which I hold as important as equal rights."
But Mathew Staver, chairman of The Liberty Counsel, said, "The least of concerns is having to perform ceremonies. This will affect children in schools who will be forced to listen to immoral teaching. Businesses will be forced to comply as though these were civil-rights issues."
For now, the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, protects states from being forced to recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned by other states. Thirty-seven states define marriage that way, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but the law is the target of court battles. In February President Barack Obama called DOMA "unconstitutional" and said he would no longer allow the Justice Department to defend it-setting the stage for same-sex marriage to figure prominently in presidential election debates.
Peter Wolfgang, president of Family Institute of Connecticut Action, says growing acceptance of same-sex marriage is ominous, and will continue to affect businesses and charities that refuse to facilitate gay marriages: "Same-sex marriage is being wielded as a weapon to push the gospel out of American society altogether."