After four decades of Republican control, the New York State Senate’s Democrats scored a coup in January, finally securing the chamber. Five months later, they may have lost it after a riotous affair went down this afternoon, with two Democrats abandoning their party to join hands with Republicans — who promptly demanded a new roll call vote to find new leadership and oust Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. What’s this mean for the fractious effort to beat the legislative session’s ticking clock to pass same-sex marriage legislation?
In a stunning turn of events, Sens. Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens (pictured, via) announced they were joining up with Republicans, though it’s not clear why. (Both men are under criminal investigation. New York is also in the middle of a frenzied state budget affair.)
Interestingly, Sen. Rubén Díaz Sr. — arguably the most vocal Democratic opponent to same-sex marriage and one of the “Gang Of Three” who nearly refused to give Smith his vote to make him leader after the November elections — did not join the rebellion. Under a new power-sharing agreement, both Sens. Espada Jr. and Republican Dean Skelos will assume co-leadership roles. Meanwhile, Smith calls the Republican takeover “illegal” and insists he’s still in power.
Fine. But what’s that mean for gay marriage? Well, things aren’t looking good.
• If Republicans do take control over the Senate, they will certainly not allow a bill to reach the floor for a full vote. Which means even if Sen. Thomas Duane had locked up the 32 votes necessary to pass the bill, it’s now dead in the water.
• If this mess is not sorted out immediately and power not officially maintained by either party, you can expect the rest of the legislative session to be tied up with turmoil, and the same-sex marriage issue pushed to the back of the bus in terms of priorities.
• If Democrats do maintain control, we’re still not out of the water. Sens. Espada Jr. was marked in the “yes” column while Monserrate was “undecided” on supporting marriage equality; it’s unclear how the team up with Republicans would impact that vote. Moreover, if Smith retains his leadership post, he may still not permit the same-sex marriage bill to come up for a vote, since he’s requiring 32 votes to pass it.
And as Elizabeth Benjamin notes: “Another rumor du jour is that Diaz, who is furious that the gay marriage bill he opposes appears to be gaining some traction in the Senate, would be angry enough with Smith if the measure comes up for a vote on the floor to join the Senate GOP. […] It’s a (typically) cryptic way of Diaz Sr. confirming the worst fears of marriage advocates – that there was indeed a deal between himself and Smith that the gay marriage bill would not come to the floor in exchange for Diaz Sr.’s support of Smith for majority leader. And now, in Diaz Sr.’s mind, if Smith brings the bill to the floor, all bets are off.”
Undoubtedly, some will argue Senate Democrats sat on their hands too long to legalize same-sex marriage — and now have nothing but a regime change to show for it.