ALBANY, New York — Even as voters in California banned same-sex marriage in a tight referendum, Tuesday's election opened the door for the same debate in New York.
The pending shift in state Senate control away from Republicans removes one clear obstacle to legalizing gay marriage in New York, though opponents aren't conceding anything yet and advocates say they have work to do.
Democrats won a narrow majority in New York's Senate, where Republicans have buried legislation to start issuing marriage licenses regardless of gender. A Senate power shift was not a sure thing because four Democrats were considering an alliance with the Republicans, which could swing the 32-30 majority back to Republicans.
"The only chance we had for meaningful debate or consideration of these issues in the state Senate was with a new Senate leadership," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York's largest gay rights advocacy group. He added that no bills have passed in New York without some votes from members of both parties.
The Rev. Duane Motley, founder of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which opposes gay marriage, said they knew that with Republicans in control of the Senate that legislation to legalize it "was not going to come up." With Democrats in control, he said party members will be pushing for it, but he questioned whether they have the votes.
"I think there's at least four or five Democrats who wouldn't support it," said Motley, who said his group represents more than 2,000 evangelical churches and 500 other Christian organizations statewide. He believes the Republican senators will remain opposed.
The Democrat-controlled state Assembly in 2007 passed legislation to legalize gay marriage 85-61, a measure backed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
It's not clear yet if political support for gay marriage will be affected by Tuesday's vote in California, where 52 percent of those voting favored the ban versus 48 percent against. It was the first time a state took away gay marriage after it had been legalized. Amendments to ban gay marriage also were approved in Arizona and Florida.
A Quinnipiac poll in June showed New Yorkers split over gay marriage, with 42 percent saying same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, 31 percent saying they should be allowed to form civil unions but not marry, and 21 percent saying there should be no legal recognition of same-sex unions.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters took to the streets Friday in San Francisco and Long Beach, while thousands more protested outside the headquarters of the Mormon church in Salt Lake City.
'Separate church and state'
The marches were the latest of several demonstrations held throughout the state this week after the passage of Proposition 8, which would amend the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The measure overrides a state Supreme Court ruling in May that briefly gave same-sex couples the right to wed.
In Salt Lake City, a crowd of about 2,000 chanted "Separate church and state" and waved rainbow flags outside the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which encouraged its members to work to pass the amendment by volunteering their time and money for the campaign.
Some protesters held signs with messages like, "Mormons: Once persecuted, now persecutors." Church officials offered no statement on the rally and march Friday night, but had called for civility and respect before and after Tuesday's vote.
The protest in Long Beach attracted about 2,000 people who were escorted by police as they marched through streets chanting and holding signs in support of gay rights.
Police said the march was peaceful, though there were some verbal clashes between gay rights activists and supporters of Proposition 8. Three people were arrested for trying to lead protesters past police lines.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.