Pressure rises on gay rites
Author: Jimmy Vielkind
Publication: Times Union
Publication Date: June 3rd, 2011
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ALBANY -- More pressure was placed on Sen. Roy McDonald to support same-sex marriage, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo lobbied him during a one-on-one meeting Thursday and a local restaurant entrepreneur urged him to support the proposal in a billboard ad.
The Saratoga County Republican said his 15 minutes with the governor was a "very responsible and respectful discussion" that also touched on Cuomo's plan to cap property tax increases to two percent a year.
"Right now, I'm somewhat undecided," McDonald said in a brief interview with the Times Union. "I'm sensitive to all people."
Arguing the same-sex marriage is a question of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, Cuomo has made legalization one of his top priorities for this legislative session, which ends June 20. He has included support for the change in stump speeches around the state and promised an all-out effort.
Until recently, Cuomo has not personally pitched lawmakers. Cuomo also met with Sen. Jim Alesi, a Rochester-area Republican. Both men are among about a dozen senators who have hedged or refused to state their position on the issue. The lawmakers are being lobbied heavily.
The senators in this group voted against a marriage bill in December 2009, when it failed in the Senate 38-24. The bill did not receive any Republican support. It has passed the Assembly three times and is expected to pass again this year, though Cuomo has said he will not introduce a Senate bill until it has the votes to assure passage.
Josh Vlasto, the governor's spokesman, declined to comment on his meetings.
Alesi said Cuomo gave a standard pitch, similar to others he has heard from gay-rights advocates.
"I agree with his sense that this is an equality issue, that if you look at it simply from that, but I have a constituency that doesn't look at it simply as an equality issue," Alesi said. "I have to balance a very diverse constituency, which I believe does contain a rather large percentage of people who are LGBT community members."
The argument against same-sex marriage, most often repeated by religious organizations, is that it shifts the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman, and would leave religious organizations that wish not to recognize it subject to litigation or loss of state funding.
"Senator McDonald will be receiving a number of calls and activities from local constituents. That's what our campaign has been about: local constituents," said the Rev. Jason McGuire, a leader of the Coalition to Save Marriage in New York, an umbrella group that opposes same-sex marriage on social and religious grounds. "When Senator McDonald, Senator Alesi and others look to what's going on in their districts, those are the people they have to convince."
A poll released Wednesday may belie his claim. While it did not specify sentiment in individual senatorial districts, the Quinnipiac University survey found New Yorkers favor legalizing same-sex marriage 58-36.
"Momentum for marriage is building every day, and today's poll shows exactly who is driving that momentum -- the people of New York state," said Marc Solomon, National Campaign Director for Freedom to Marry. Labor unions -- including PEF, CSEA and the Capital District Area Labor Federation, which covers 120,000 members in the region -- announced their support for the measure.
Also Thursday, Bomber's Burrito Bar and Wolff's Biergarten owner Matt Baumgartner spent $4,000 to fund a electronic billboard message on I-787 addressed to McDonald, asking him "support marriage for all loving couples."
"I own property in his district, and will potentially open a store in his district," said the Albany businessman. "As a local businessman and someone who's gay, I think it's important that Senator McDonald fight for this."
Steve Barnes contributed. Reach Vielkind at 454-5081 or email@example.com.
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