NY state senator loses election after backing gay marriage

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Republican state senator whose vote was crucial to legalizing gay marriage in New York has lost his primary election while a Senate colleague who also broke with the party’s stance against same-sex unions narrowly escaped defeat.

Senators Roy McDonald and Stephen Saland were among four New York Senate Republicans to cast key votes last year to make New York the most populous U.S. state to allow homosexual marriages. After a count of absentee ballots, McDonald was determined to have lost his race while Saland narrowly won in September 13 primary elections.

Mark Grisanti, another Republican senator who backed the gay marriage measure, which passed New York’s Republican-controlled Senate on a 33-29 vote in June 2011, won his primary race by a clear margin. A fourth senator who supported the bill was not seeking re-election.

McDonald lost the Republican nomination in the 43rd District to Kathy Marchione, the Saratoga County clerk, in a contest that frequently touched on the issue of gay marriage.

Although the results are yet to be certified, Marchione had a lead of about 110 votes after a final count of absentee ballots, according to her campaign and The Saratogian newspaper. About 50 votes still were awaiting adjudication by a judge.

“Senator McDonald’s vote on marriage was certainly on the minds of voters but they took even greater issue with the fact that he was telling people he would vote a certain way up to a week prior and then voted differently,” said Ken Girardin, a spokesman for the Marchione campaign.

A McDonald spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Saland of Poughkeepsie and Grisanti of Buffalo have retained their party’s support following the primaries.

Saland’s victory was not secured until Monday after a final tally of absentee ballots gave him a lead of a little more than 100 votes.

The New York primary races were being closely watched as a measure of the tolerance Republican voters might have for candidates who deviate from the official party line, which defines marriage as being between “one man and one woman.”

Lawmakers in Rhode Island, Delaware and elsewhere are expected to weigh gay marriage legislation next year and some Republican backing could be needed to pass those measures.

And this November, voters in four states - Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington - will decide ballot initiatives on the issue. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in seven states and the District of Columbia.

But the outcomes of the New York primaries were close enough that both opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage were able to find encouragement in the results on Tuesday.

Jason McGuire, the executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical Christian organization that lobbies against same-sex marriage, said Marchione’s victory and even Saland’s narrow win should be seen as a warning to Republican legislators tempted to “go rogue,” as he put it.

“The fact that she came from behind with so little support shows that no amount of activist dollars can protect you from an angry electorate,” he said of Marchione’s victory.

But Lynn Faria, the interim executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, which has lobbied in support of same-sex marriage, said Marchione’s narrow win showed many Republicans are willing to back candidates who support gay unions.

“Now that we finally know the unofficial results of our state’s primary elections, even some among the most conservative of New York voters have sent a clear message that they will support elected officials who stood on the right side of history in June 2011,” she said in a statement. (Editing by Paul Thomasch)