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The legalization of gay marriage tops the list of legislative goals currently being held hostage by State Senator Carl Kruger and the mavericks that make up his “independent caucus.”
The so-called “Gang of Three,” which includes State Senators Ruben Diaz Sr. and Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr., both of the Bronx, are calling for a referendum on the issue of gay marriage rather than a legislative decree, leaving the decision to the voters.
The group also said that they will refuse to support Queens State Senator Macolm Smith in his bid for Senate Majority leader if his legislative agenda includes gay marriage.
In spirit, the referendum would be somewhat similar to the now infamous Proposition 8 vote in California, which called for banning gay marriage in the Golden state.
As the nation saw Barack Obama win his 2008 bid for President last Tuesday, residents of California also watched Proposition 8 pass with 52 percent of the vote. Its success came as a bad omen for gay marriage supporters in Brooklyn still fighting to have the measure passed in New York.
Ever since the Democrats regained control of the State Senate by obtaining 32 of the 62 seats (Republicans hold the remaining 30 seats), Kruger and his independent caucus colleagues have withheld their support of Smith.
Their three votes (it used to be four, until State Senate-elect Hiram Monserrate of Queens announced his support for Smith a week and a half earlier) could make or break a victory for Smith or current Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
When they came on the scene, Kruger’s independent caucus first claimed that they were withholding their votes to end partisan politics.
They then said that they were using their votes as a bargaining chip to get more Hispanic legislators in leadership positions new State Senate.
Now they’re focusing on gay marriage.
A call to Kruger’s office for comment was not returned as this paper went to press.
Last year, a gay marriage bill passed the Assembly, but was stalled in the GOP-run State Senate.
It was believed that with the Democrats in charge, the Senate would approve gay marriage.
Political insiders told reporters that the independent caucus’s demand for a referendum will be similar to one that Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries and State Senator Kevin Parker are calling for regarding term limits in the City Council.
“If Malcolm [Smith] thinks term limits changes should be decided by referendum, then why not gay marriage?” asked one source.
Supporters of gay marriage said that calling for a referendum would be difficult. Unlike California, a state constitutional amendment on gay marriage must be decided on by two separately-elected legislatures before it is brought to the voters — which could take four to five years.
“Luckily, we don’t have an amendment process in New York, like we have in California,” said Alan Fleishman, Park Slope’s Democratic District Leader and former co-president of the Lambda Independent Democrats, the borough’s leading gay political group.
Kruger, whose district includes Bergen Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach, has never publicly discussed his opinions on gay marriage.
Before last week’s announcement, the Empire State Pride Agenda, a political group pushing for the legalization of gay marriage, said that Kruger’s position on same sex marriage was “unknown or unclear.”
Last week, Governor David Paterson lashed out against Kruger and his colleagues in the independent caucus, claiming that at a time when state legislators should be working together to get New York out of the fiscal quagmire it’s descending into, they’re “in a fight over personal luxuries.”
“It’s a superfluous type of selfishness that’s gotten us into this mess in the first place,” he told reporters.
Responding to Paterson’s comments in the Daily News, Kruger said that he will continue to hold his vote until his concerns about the new Senate leadership are addressed.
“I don’t care if we go past the opening of session without a decision [about who the new Majority Leader is],” he said. “Until I am totally satisfied the house will be run differently, that there will be a voice for everyone and not just the left wing of the party, I won’t ever, ever, ever succumb.”
The independent caucus is expected to outline their entire legislative agenda in the next few weeks.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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