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State Senate Approves Religious Amendments Prior To Same-Sex Marriage Vote

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Supporters of same-sex marriage were optimistic heading into the New York State Senate vote on Friday, after the Senate approved a set of amendments to protect religious organizations from potential effects of the legislation.

After days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced Friday afternoon that the legislation would be brought to the full Senate for a vote.

"After many hours of deliberation and discussion over the past several weeks among the members, it has been decided that same-sex marriage legislation will be brought to the full Senate for an up or down vote," Skelos said in a statement shortly before 6 p.m.

Currently, the number of senators in favor of the bill comes in at 31, with 29 opposed and two undecided.

To pass, the measure needs 32 votes.

Skelos' statement came after lawmakers agreed Friday afternoon on a Republican-supported chapter amendment to the same-sex marriage bill that would give more protection to religious institutions.

The Assembly officially passed the amendment Friday evening, 82-47.

"People felt there was a further need, so there are a couple of revisions which make it clearer than clear that it is not the point of this bill to require anyone to perform or solemnize marriages," said Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell of the amendment earlier this afternoon. "That's not what this is designed to do. This is merely about the state issuing of licenses, and that's what the bill does. It allows the state to issue licenses. And so it's further clarifying language. It does add a few things that were not in it before, which I am certainly fine with, and I'm hoping that we move forward today."

In the event that the State Senate approves the same-sex marriage bill, it will become law 30 days after Governor Andrew Cuomo signs it, Assemblyman O'Donnell said.

Passage of the bill would make New York the sixth state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, a vote on the omnibus bill, which includes rent regulations, was expected to take place Friday evening. The same-sex marriage vote was not expected to take place until that work is completed.

The waiting game continued in Albany Friday afternoon as several pieces of pressing legislation, including rent regulations and a possible vote on same-sex marriage, remained up in the air.

The State Senate adjourned just before 11:00 p.m. yesterday following a marathon session.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he sent lawmakers home for the sake of their health since bills on other issues were being printed and weren't expected to be ready until Friday morning.

Observers had expected a vote on same-sex marriage in the overnight hours.

Many in the capitol said an answer on the measure would come after they work out the remaining details on other major legislation including a property tax cap, mandate relief and an increase to SUNY/CUNY tuition.

"We're four days past the scheduled end of session, but that's just an arbitrary date so it's not like a budget that has to be done by April 1st. We're continuing to work," said State Senator Jim Alesi.

"We should give New Yorkers closure on this. There should be an answer on marriage. Five extenders on rent and last night they didn't even bring up an extender. Quietly in the middle of the night, with troopers in the galleries and people passionate on both sides, they quietly scooted out of the chambers," said State Senator Adriano Espaillat.

Because lawmakers ended session so quickly Thursday night, there was not enough time to put an emergency rent regulations extension bill in place, meaning at midnight the current rent laws expired for the second time in just weeks.

On the issue of gay marriage, Republican Senator Greg Ball announced Thursday that he will vote no, but said he still believes the bill will pass.

Meanwhile, the large number of demonstrators inside the capitol have prompted state police to seal off the hall near the senate chamber.

Here in the city, supporters of the measure say they are disappointed lawmakers are still dragging their feet.

"I question if there'll be a vote at all. I think if this was really something everyone was taking seriously and about to push forward or at least consider push forward, it would have been done Monday or Tuesday," said one patron.

"We've got the rings, we just need the paperwork to help us out in the future," said another.

"I really wish they would vote the way we deserve rights like everybody else, but I really don't need the world's approval," said a third.

Despite the delays, many at the bar that was the birthplace of the gay rights movement said they are still hopeful the bill will pass.

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