New York state senators seem to have made little progress in the debate over same-sex marriage in the last day of the scheduled legislative session. According to multiple reports, Majority Leader Dean Skelos does not anticipate a vote on the measure before midnight tonight. If the senators do not reach an agreement tonight, Governor Andrew Cuomo will need to file for an extension of the legislative session. After a meeting with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker and Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver, Skelos explained to reporters that the discussion revolved around religious exemption language in the bill and that it would likely take several more days to iron out the details.
The New York Times confirms the reports of no vote and cites a debate over extending rent control laws as a reason for the hold up:
By midafternoon on Monday, the last official day of the legislative session, leaders of the Assembly and Senate claimed there had been progress on a host of fronts but had little to show for it.
No deal seemed imminent on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage or on overhauling the state's rent regulations, which expire at midnight. Nor did a final vote seem likely on a tentative deal announced weeks ago to cap state property taxes. Those issues constitute the bulk of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's remaining agenda for the legislative session, much of it now resting in the hands of the Republican-led State Senate.
"No," replied Dean G. Skelos, the Republican Senate leader, when asked if the Senate might hold a vote on same-sex marriage today.
Jewish scholar and Huffington Post blogger Jay Michaelson provides a detailed look at the issues that New York senate leaders may be discussing. Though the post goes into great detail about the specifics, Michaelson explains how according to existing law, the marriage act would have different implications for different types of religious organizations. He cites a letter from Republican state senator Greg Ball, the same lawmaker who's polling his constituents for their opinions over Twitter and Facebook. "Governor's language does not protect church-related agencies from denial of funding by state and local government agencies to provide charitable and health services, or allow them to make hiring and benefits decisions based on religious beliefs," writes Ball. "Most of these religious-affiliated groups are incorporated under the Not for Profit Corporation Law, not just the Religious Corporation Law and Education Law."
The issue here is really in the last sentence. Ball and the Republican leadership are aware that religious organizations recognized as such are specifically exempted from complying with the marriage law. They can fire me because I'm gay, deny my partner medical benefits if I work for them, and refuse to allow us to rent their space for our wedding celebration next September. But, Ball is also correct that many religious organizations are not Religious Corporations under the law; they are ordinary nonprofit corporations. Organizations choose this more general status for a variety of reasons. First, religious corporations must prove that most of their activities are specifically religious. A Catholic aid agency, for example, may have trouble doing that, if what they're mainly doing is providing food, or medical assistance, or similar services. Second, there are reporting requirements associated with being a religious corporation, which many organizations seek to avoid.
The problem here is that changing the bill to exempt any nonprofit organization from compliance allows far too much. All an organization would have to do is claim to be religious in some way, and the protections meant to be given to same-sex couples are suddenly removed. This allows far too much.
More updates on the state of the same-sex marriage debate is expected after the conclusion of the rent control debate.