On equality’s brink

Five and a half years have passed since New York State first elected a governor who backed a pro-marriage equality platform. Since January 2007, all three of the state’s chief executives — Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson and now Andrew Cuomo — have given full-throated support to the equal right to marry for gays and lesbians.

It’s been more than four years since the state Assembly first approved the marriage legislation championed by openly gay Upper West Side Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell. The Assembly has done so two more times since then, and is poised to act again if the Senate is ready to act affirmatively as well.

And it was 18 months ago when the state Senate rejected the right of gays and lesbians to marry in a lopsided tally in which every Republican voted no, but of the 38 total from both parties who voted against, only Democrat Ruben Diaz, Sr., rose to explain his vote.

Now, however, we could put this protracted struggle behind us in the next few days, should advocates, legislative leaders — including Senate marriage sponsor Tom Duane of Chelsea and the Village — and the governor secure just one more vote to achieve a majority in the 62-member Senate.

Just this week, five more pro-marriage equality votes were picked up in the Senate: three Democrats and one Republican on Monday, then another Republican on Tuesday.

Now, only one more Republican senator is needed to achieve the necessary majority. All the Senate Democrats are behind the bill, except for Diaz, of course, who, it can be assured, won’t change his position.

No doubt, Governor Cuomo wouldn’t be pushing the bill if he wasn’t sure the votes are there.

Dean Skelos, the state Senate majority leader, has told members to “vote their conscience” on the matter, yet all eyes are fastened upon him to see if Skelos will let the bill come to the Senate floor for a vote — which is expected to happen Friday. At this point, it seems unlikely the majority leader would block this legislation from coming to the floor.

The legislative session is scheduled to end Monday. Cuomo and the bill’s supporters don’t want to delay a vote until a special session over the summer. Now is the time.

Assuming gay marriage passes, it would become state law within 30 days, and gay and lesbian couples could finally legally wed here, in one of the nation’s leading liberal states.

Because the gay-marriage law will have been passed by the state Legislature, and because it’s not easy to get a statewide referendum on the ballot here, it would be extremely unlikely to be overturned. The only possible scenario would be if the U.S. Constitution were amended to ban gay marriage, and that’s extremely unlikely.

California’s gay-marriage law, on the other hand, was passed by that state’s highest court, but then overturned by a statewide referendum, and is now mired in federal court. Again, given the conditions in New York, that won’t happen here.

New York would become the sixth and largest state with gay marriage.

If this bill does pass, it will be the dawning of a new era, an era of equality for gays and lesbians. It’s hard to put into words exactly what this will mean for so many people — the connotations are so great, so far reaching.

Soon, it appears, all of us in this state will have the equal right to legally marry whomever we choose. It’s high time, at long last.