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Albany pols debate marriage equality bill after legislative session ends

Hinting that a Senate vote on the marriage equality bill could be postponed until later this week—or indefinitely, if Republican requests aren’t met—New York state lawmakers allowed the current legislative session to expire Monday night, disappointing dozens of LGBT advocates camped out in the halls of the state capitol building.

The bill’s supporters intimated that a vote could be scheduled as early as Wednesday, or as late as Friday. Legislators continued to work past the session’s conclusion in hopes of reaching consensus on bills to enhance existing rent regulations and to implement a property tax cap. The marriage equality bill seems to be the most controversial of the three issues in play, and it appears that a vote to legalize same-sex marriage in New York would occur only after the rent and property tax bills are reviewed.

Senate Republicans have requested additional safeguards in the marriage bill’s language to protect religious groups from being obligated to perform same-sex marriages. Though every U.S. jurisdiction that has legalized same-sex marriage—Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and the District of Columbia—includes provisions protecting religious beliefs, New York Senators are concerned that only religious institutions, and not individuals, are protected by the bill’s current wording.

Sen. Greg Ball (R-Putnam County), an undecided Senator whose “yea” vote is seen as crucial in the bill’s passage, elucidated his caucus’ concerns in an interview with host Christine Romans of CNN’s In the Arena.

“In this bill, there’s language [for] religious corporations, but the actual individuals who conduct those marriages, those ceremonies, are not necessarily protected within the language of the bill [like] the religious institutions,” Ball said. “Then you have religious organizations—Knights of Columbus is an example—and whether or not they would be open[ed] up to lawsuits; have their not-for-profit tax exempt status challenged; or whether, from a regulatory perspective, their permits could actually be pulled. Those protections have not been fully laid out.”

Ball also asked his constituents about their views on legalizing same-sex marriage on Facebook and Twitter—with widely differing results. Twitter responders overwhelmingly pushed for marriage equality, but Ball admitted most of his followers aren’t local voters.

“I have 5,000 Facebook friends; most of them are within district. I would say on my Facebook page [results are] breaking 50-50,” Ball said. “The calls coming into my office are about 60-40 against. And I would say that those who are against are in my base…Those who are for [marriage equality]; I have never seen them before.”

The bill is currently one vote shy of the majority needed to pass, and LGBT advocates are lobbying key Senators around the clock.

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