The Putnam Examiner

Ball Potential Swing Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Law

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State Sen. Greg Ball

The past two weeks, Sen. Greg Ball found himself in the forefront in the debate over legalizing same-sex marriage, as the Senate headed is now as little as one vote shy of passing the Marriage Equality Act, according to some reports. Ball is one of a few Republican senators who remains undecided, but has said legislation put forward by Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not adequately protect religious organizations.

Though Ball vowed to vote against any bill without certain protections for religious organizations, he was not committed to voting yes if the bill included them, according to a Ball spokesperson.

Ball, who voted against similar legislation as an assemblyman in 2009, has long said he was undecided on whether he would support legalizing same-sex marriage this time around.

“As a young leader and firm believer in less government, not more, I genuinely appreciate both sides of this polarizing issue,” he said in a press release Wednesday. “On one side, it is viewed as a civil rights issue, and on the other side, a direct affront on heartfelt religious beliefs.”

The last time same-sex marriage came before the state legislature it passed in the Assembly but failed 38-24 in the more conservative Senate. This year, with strong support from Cuomo, the bill has again passed in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. All but one Democratic senator is expected to vote for the bill while, unlike two years ago, several Republicans said they plan to vote yes.

If all else breaks as expected and the legislation is brought to a vote, Ball’s support would be enough for the law to pass. Ball seems unlikely to vote for the bill passed last week by the Assembly, calling it an “affront to religious organizations” that “would open up a new era of lawsuits against individuals and religious organizations” in a press release put out Thursday.

The bill does contain language aimed at protecting religious organizations, as it says refusal by such a group “shall not create a civil claim or cause of action.” In his press release last Thursday, Ball said it didn’t go far enough. He wanted protection for church-related agencies from denial of funding based on their religious beliefs and protection of religious or benevolent orders from challenges to their tax-exempt status. He added that Cuomo’s bill left the door open for enforcement actions by regulatory agencies, such as denial of licenses.

Greg Julian, a political science professor at Pace University and an expert on local state politics, said Ball was trying to craft a political solution to a human rights issue.

“In that sense, he’s not overtly in favor of the Equality Act but what he is trying to evoke is that it becomes an opt out for people who don’t want to do that,” Julian said. “Given his beliefs and his previous position being opposed to gay marriage, I think he’s done something which I laud him for it and protect people’s rights who don’t believe in gay marriage.”

Julian, though, questioned whether Ball was simply trying to “have it both ways” by voting against the bill but not explicitly opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“I don’t know if Ball will ever be satisfied with the language,” Julian said. “My political instinct is that he’s going to extract the language and he’s not going to vote for it and it’s not going to be passed.”

While the substance of the bill may be a litmus test of the social climate in New York, the battle for Ball’s deciding vote showed how modern technology has made its way into the political system. On Friday, Ball asked his Twitter followers “So, if you were me, how would you vote on gay marriage? Yes or No?” Hundreds of Tweeters have weighed in, the vast majority asking him to vote yes. His Senate web site is also filled with comments asking for his support, while on his Facebook page, some threads on the issue have turned into vicious arguments.

Support for legalizing same-sex marriage is strong throughout the state, as an April poll by Siena College showed 58 percent of respondents favored such a law while 36 percent opposed it. Opponents of the Marriage Equality Act have fought back, including New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which held a “Mayday for Marriage” tour across New York this spring and held a press conference Monday asking Republican senators to vote no.

The Marriage Equality Act passed 80-63 in the Assembly. Assembly members Tom Abinanti (D-92) and Sandy Galef (D-90) voted yes, while Assemblymen Bob Castelli (R-89) and Steve Katz (R-99) voted no.

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