After days of inaction in Albany, the State Senate overwhelmingly rejected a bill for gay marriage Wednesday, after passing a $2.8 billion deficit reduction plan just hours earlier.
The Marriage Equality Act was rejected by a 38-24 vote, after the State Assembly passed the bill for the second time the night before.
Among the eight Democrats who voted against the measure was Queens Senator Hiram Monserrate and Bronx Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.
As State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada voted in favor of the bill, he said he favored "as many do-overs" as needed to finally legalize same-sex marriage in New York State.
The senators debated on the bill for almost three hours, but most who spoke were in favor of gay marriage.
"This legislation would merely provide me and tens of thousands of other New Yorkers equal rights in New York State," said Manhattan Democratic Senator Thomas Duane, the only openly gay senator.
Democratic Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson dramatically revealed her support for the bill by publicly stating for the first time that her late brother was gay, and that by supporting the bill she would be giving New Yorkers civil rights that her own brother never enjoyed.
Diaz pointed out during the debate that same-sex marriage is still controversial nationwide.
"Every state of the nation, the majority of the states of the nation [where] the people got the opportunity to vote on this issue, the people have rejected it," he said.
A Marist poll conducted in November and released Wednesday finds that 51 percent of New York State voters support same-sex marriage, while 42 percent oppose it.
In New York City, 61 percent of surveyed voters support same-sex marriage while only 33 percent are opposed.
Governor David Paterson had previously expressed eager support for the bill.
"I think that if this were truly a vote of conscience, marriage equality would have passed today," Paterson said. "I think a number of legislators were intimidated by a number of forces around this issue."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed disappointment over the vote, but said, "Although I’m deeply disappointed with today’s result, and know that the sense of anguish and frustration is even more pronounced among gay and lesbian New Yorkers, at least we now know where individual legislators stand. And so now, we begin a new effort to secure the additional votes needed to pass this bill.... Historic change does not come easily, but this vote was a crucial step that, I believe, will ultimately lead the State to extend full marriage rights to all couples."
Five other states and the District of Columbia have passed bills that allow for same-sex marriage.
The State Senate's rejection of the long-awaited same-sex marriage bill took many New Yorkers by surprise.
At a rally in Times Square, many braved the rainy weather to voice their disdain over the outcome.
"I'm appalled. I can't believe that in 2009, almost 2010 we're still having trouble accepting something that just seems so obvious," said one gay marriage supporter.
"People get the impression that gays are second class and we're not second class. We should have the right to marry. We have families and we live just like everyone else. Enough is enough already. It's time for a change and to let everyone be equal," said another gay marriage supporter.
Meanwhile, Paterson warns that while the state budget has been trimmed, more cuts still need to be made. He said he will delay aid to schools and hospitals until as late as April to make sure the state can pay its bills and avoid a downgrade of its credit rating.
Paterson says court decisions support his plan.
"The leaders have told me, this is as far as they're going to go. Well, it's not far enough," said the governor yesterday. "So I will accept it, and I will help them in any way to set up the legislation so it can be passed and signed. The one thing that I'm not going to do is submit the bill myself for less what I proposed, because I just don't think it improves the culture around here of always addressing problems by 50 and 60 percent."
The plan passed by the Senate calls for a five percent cut to the State and City Universities of New York and a $107 million cut in health care spending.
Local assistance programs are also having their budgets reduced by 12.5 percent.
Legislative leaders say their plan avoided cuts that would force public worker layoffs.