New York same sex marriage vote delayed

ALBANY, New York Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:50pm EDT

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ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York state senators will not vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage before Monday, the senate majority leader said on Friday.

New York could become the sixth state to allow gay marriage if a bill introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is approved by the Senate. Only one more Republican senator needs to support the measure for it to pass.

The stakes are high because New York would become the most populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage approved by lawmakers, handing the gay rights movement a huge victory.

But with lawmakers set to break for summer recess on Monday, and with Republicans in the majority in the state Senate, it remained unclear if the measure would even be allowed to come to a vote.

When asked by reporters if there was any chance of the Senate voting on the issue before Monday, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said: "No."

Two Republican senators have already publicly said they will back the proposal, while one Democrat senator opposes it -- leaving New York's 62-member Senate split.

Republican senators were discussing the gay marriage bill and other issues on Friday and would continue talks on Monday, Skelos said.

"There is a concern right now as to the unintended consequences of some of the religious clauses, carve-outs, protections, and we're reviewing that," Skelos said.

Skelos said Cuomo indicated to him on Friday that he would be open to amending the proposal to include more specific exemptions for religious groups.

The bill does not compel any member of the clergy to conduct same-sex marriages, but some Republican lawmakers are concerned the legal protection is not strong enough.

"Republicans need to understand, no one wants to force the Catholic church to marry gay couples. There are plenty of existing protections," said Richard Socarides, the head of national gay-rights group Equality Matters, referring to parts of the state Constitution that protect religious groups.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, New York's top Catholic official, told a radio show Friday that Cuomo included the Church's lawyers in the drafting of the bill.

The state-by-state battle over gay marriage has become a contentious U.S. social issue ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. Five states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage and four states have civil unions.

New York's Democrat-dominated Assembly voted 80 to 63 in favor of the bill on Wednesday.

In California, a judge last year overturned a ban on gay marriage, but no weddings can take place while the decision is being appealed. It could set national policy if the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, and Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey approved civil unions. But gay marriage is specifically banned in 39 states.

The first legal same-sex marriages in the United States took place in Massachusetts in 2004.

A recent Siena poll found 58 percent of New Yorkers support same-sex marriage.

If the bill passes, same-sex couples could start marrying in New York 30 days later.

(Writing by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Greg McCune)

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