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NY Senate stuck on gay marriage as rallies grow

By MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Hundreds of protesters for and against gay marriage in New York chanted, sang and sought out TV cameras Monday while the state Senate again came to no resolution on the issue in a closed-door session that barely touched on the nationally divisive topic.

Two Republican senators said the gay marriage issue that has sharply focused the efforts of opponents and advocates was only briefly discussed in the caucus. Instead, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos is negotiating with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on religious exemptions that could be enough for Republican senators - most of whom oppose gay marriage - to send the issue to a floor where a bipartisan effort could pass it.

Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx minister who has led the opposition, said he now considers the legalization of same-sex marriage inevitable at some point in New York. He said, however, he's unsure how the Senate will vote, noting Cuomo is exerting unprecedented pressure to get Republicans to approve his bill.

On Monday, groups led by clergy opposed to same-sex marriage sang hymns such as "Victory is Mine" and prayed in small circles while pro-same-sex marriage advocates countered with "God Bless America" and "This Little Light of Mine" and lined the halls and parlor outside the Senate chamber.

State troopers were called to the Senate chamber floor as the two groups started to merge and talk with each other, but there was no escalation in the jammed marble hallways that turned stifling hot from the people and TV cameras. Most were respectful of each other and kept to their own groups.

"This is not about religion, this is about civil rights," Sharon Baum of New York City said.

She was soon confronted by a woman opposed to gay marriage.

"If this passes, we will become Sodom and Gomorrah," said 80-year-old Ginny Winn, of Delmar in Albany County.

"God says 'No'!" chanted one side, as pro-gay marriage advocates, led by their clergy, intoned, "God is love!"

When Winn, a great-grandmother, interrupted Baum and said she's been married for decades. Baum offered a sincere "Mazel tov!" which is Hebrew for congratulations.

The gay marriage bill is now part of the usual horse-trading of issues behind closed doors that is common at the close of session for the New York Legislature. That means the emotional issue is tied to such common, but important measures as continuing New York City's rent control law and a statewide property tax cap, said the senators who spoke on the condition of anonymity because there was no official statement from the Republican majority.

Susan Lerner of the good-government group Common Cause said the level of professional and grass roots lobbying appears unmatched in New York since the abortion and reproductive rights battles of the 1970s.

New York's vote is pivotal in the national question over same-sex marriage, an effort that largely stalled in the same room two years ago when the Senate voted it down. Since then, efforts have failed in New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maryland. Advocates hope a "yes" vote in the nation's third-most populous state jumpstarts the effort.

The Rev. William Mayhew of Millerton said children aren't given the support they need in a gay household.

"They are creating another category of civil rights," Mayhew said. "American will suffer!"

Former New York Giants player David Tyree was among the celebrities on both sides of the issue. He said in Albany on Monday that God may have given him the ability to make his stunning, one-handed catch to help the Giants win the Super Bowl in 2007 so he would have a platform to oppose gay marriage today.

"I am not a political person, but gay marriage isn't a political issue," he said. "This not about right and left, but about right and wrong."

He said he opposes gay measure as a threat to children and families.

The Assembly has already passed the measure.

The legislative session was supposed to end Monday, but the negotiations are expected to keep the Legislature in Albany through much of the week.

Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report.

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