New York lawmakers rejected a bill Wednesday that would have made their state the sixth to allow gay marriage, disheartening advocates already stung by a similar decision by Maine voters just last month.
The New York measure failed by a wider margin than expected, falling 12 votes short in a 24-38 decision by the state Senate. The Assembly had earlier approved the bill, and Gov. David Paterson, perhaps the bill's strongest advocate, had pledged to sign it.
New York also doesn't allow civil unions, but has several laws, executive orders and court decisions that grant many of the rights to gays long enjoyed by married couples.
The vote comes after months of delays and arm twisting of lawmakers sympathetic to the bill but representing conservative districts. It also follows a referendum in Maine that struck down a gay marriage law before it took effect.
Immediately after the vote, gay rights advocates chanted: "Equal rights now!" Many said they weren't surprised by the decision. Most, including Paterson, said they at least wanted a floor debate and vote.
Senate sponsor Thomas Duane, a Manhattan Democrat and the Legislature's first openly gay member, vowed not to give up his life's goal.
"I'm like a dog with a bone," said Duane in his closing remarks on the floor, when defeat was becoming clear. "I wouldn't let go of anyone ... Because I don't give up. I don't know how to!"
Gay marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. A New Hampshire law takes effect Jan. 1.
"It's certainly disappointing," said Richard Socarides, a 55-year-old Manhattan lawyer and resident and former President Bill Clinton's senior adviser on gay rights issues. "I'm surprised that it was not closer. We'll have to take a hard look at what went wrong."
'My Bible stays out'
Sen. Eric Adams, D-Brooklyn, challenged lawmakers to set aside their personal religious beliefs. He asked them to remember that once even slavery was legal.
"When I walk through these doors, my Bible stays out," Adams said.
"That's the wrong statement," said gay marriage opponent Sen. Ruben Diaz, a conservative minister from the Bronx. "You should carry your Bible all the time."
Diaz was the only opponent among the 38 to speak. Eighteen senators gave impassioned speeches, often about family members who survived the Holocaust and discrimination and would want gays to be equal under law.