The New York State Senate defeated a bill on Wednesday that would legalize same-sex marriage, after an emotional debate that touched on civil rights, family and history. The vote means that the bill, pushed by Gov. David A. Paterson, is effectively dead for the year and dashes the optimism of gay rights advocates, who have had setbacks recently in several key states.
The bill was defeated by a decisive margin of 38 to 24. The Democrats, who have a bare, one-seat majority, did not have enough votes to pass the bill without some Republican support, but not a single Republican senator voted for the measure. Still, several key Democrats who were considered swing votes also opposed the bill.
Mr. Paterson made an unusual trip to the Senate floor minutes after the last vote was cast, saying, “These victories come and so do the losses, but you keep on trying.”
The state’s Roman Catholic bishops, who had actively lobbied against the bill, said they were pleased by the vote.
“While the Catholic Church rejects unjust discrimination against homosexual men and women, there is no question that marriage by its nature is the union of one man and one woman,” Richard E. Barnes, the executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said in a statement. “Advocates for same-sex marriage have attempted to portray their cause as inevitable. However, it has become clear that Americans continue to understand marriage the way it has always been understood, and New York is not different in that regard. This is a victory for the basic building block of our society.”
In the end, it was not an issue that broke down along racial lines, or even religious and agnostic divisions. In fact, nine of the Senate’s 11 black members voted in support of same-sex marriage.
“When I walk through these doors, my Bible stays out,” said Senator Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat who compared the law preventing same-sex marriage with laws that kept blacks and whites from marrying. “I believe there are certain moments here where we can benchmark our lives by the votes we took.”
The debate was as personal as any to take place in the Senate chamber in years. Senators spoke of their experiences as Jews and Baptists, as blacks and women. They spoke of spending long nights contemplating their votes and the deceased gay friends and relatives who inspired their decision.
Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, spoke publicly for the first time about her gay brother, who was shunned by her family and moved to France.
“He had disappeared from our lives. And my father worried, but he could not ask him to come home,” she said, fighting back tears. Ms. Hassell-Thompson said she searched for her brother and eventually found him and asked him to come home. But he told her he was hesitant because he felt his family did not want to see him. “I said, ‘But your sister does.’ ”
State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx made an impassioned argument against same-sex marriage, describing his continued opposition as reflecting the broad consensus that marriage should be limited to a union between a man and woman. “Not only the evangelicals, not only the Jews, not only the Muslims, not only the Catholics, but also the people oppose it,” he said.
Senate Republicans had said before the vote that they believed their members could provide a few votes for the bill.
“There may be a few, that’s very possible,” said Senator Thomas W. Libous of Binghamton, the deputy Republican leader. “Everybody’s feeling is get it on the floor and let’s vote it up or down. It’s been talked about enough. Let’s get it done. I think it’s going to be very close.”
Ms. Krueger said before the debate began that she was optimistic the bill would pass, but added, “It depends on whether Republican votes are delivered.”
Had the legislation passed, New York would have become the sixth state where marriage between same-sex couples is legal or will soon be permitted. But now that it has failed, New York becomes the latest state where gay rights advocates have made considerable progress only to see their hopes dashed.
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