By MICHAEL BARBARO and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE -
In a closed-door meeting with gay advocates, Gov. pledged on Wednesday to deploy his own political popularity and prestige to push for the legalization of in New York, saying he was prepared to devote his “full attention” to the cause this spring.
“For me, this is personal,” Mr. Cuomo said at one point, according to two people with direct knowledge of the session.
The governor’s remarks, which participants in the meeting described as unexpectedly forceful and impassioned, suggested that Mr. Cuomo and his aides intend to become deeply involved in overseeing a campaign over the next few months to permit such marriages in the state.
And they were especially striking in light of Mr. Cuomo’s long and at times fraught relationship with the gay community.
The legalization of same-sex marriage still faces daunting challenges in New York, where it was defeated in the State Senate two years ago by a wide margin. But Mr. Cuomo’s commitment to using his political savvy and muscle could give advocates something they had long lacked: a unifying, persuasive leader who understands the wiles and ways of Albany.
That could prove crucial now that the Senate is controlled by Republicans, none of whom voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009, when the Democrats held a narrow majority.
“This meeting was intended to send a statement directly from the governor that this state is going to lead on this issue — and he is going to lead it,” said Richard Socarides, the president of the gay rights group Equality Matters, who participated in the hourlong session at the Capitol.
In a sign of Mr. Cuomo’s determination to be closely engaged, he will assign his most senior aide, Steven M. Cohen, to oversee the administration’s efforts on the issue. Mr. Cohen, who holds the title of secretary to the governor, normally functions as Mr. Cuomo’s top strategist and day-to-day manager of the executive chamber and is less typically involved in handling specific legislative matters.
But exactly when — or even if — same-sex marriage will come to a vote this year remains uncertain. People involved in the discussions said Mr. Cuomo and advocates were determined to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing defeat on the Senate floor in 2009, when Democratic lawmakers, advocates and Gov. David A. Paterson had difficulty coordinating their efforts, misjudged support for the bill and won far fewer votes than they had predicted. After passing in the Assembly, the bill was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 38 to 24.
This time, a person involved in the discussions said, “the governor’s office is really going to quarterback this.” Those who described the meeting did so on the condition of anonymity, citing the governor’s desire to keep the discussion confidential.
Republicans made gains in both chambers of the Legislature last fall. On Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo told advocates that it would make little sense for him or for the advocates to push for a floor vote unless there were enough votes for passage in the Senate, participants said.
Mr. Cuomo’s timing depends, to some degree, on the state budget, his chief priority. Should the Legislature pass the governor’s budget by the April 1 deadline, he would be likely to move more quickly to other priorities, including same-sex marriage and legislation to strengthen New York’s ethics laws. But if Mr. Cuomo becomes embroiled in a drawn-out, acrimonious budget fight with the Legislature — a distinct possibility — he would most likely seek to let passions cool before jumping into another contentious legislative battle.
The meeting with gay advocates, and Mr. Cuomo’s hourlong participation, seemed to signal a new phase in the same-sex-marriage debate in New York: attendees emphasized that the governor might have easily farmed out the issue to top aides, but that he had instead decided to put his stamp on it.
Surrounded by leaders of the state’s most prominent gay rights groups and his top advisers, Mr. Cuomo opened the session by describing the state’s crucial place in the history of movements like women’s liberation, gay rights and environmental justice, according to those who attended.
New York, he said, was not leading on same-sex marriage, and he suggested that it was time for the state to restore its reputation for progressive change.
Calling many in the room friends, he said the issue had taken on a personal dimension for him, because of his relationship with gay people he has known for years. Ross D. Levi, who attended the meeting and leads the Empire State Pride Agenda, a leading gay rights group in New York, said the governor’s commitment of support was “very satisfying.”
In a statement issued after the meeting, Mr. Cuomo hinted at his personal investment in the marriage debate. “To me this is more than just a piece of legislation,” he said. “This is about the lives of people who I have known for many years, who currently are without the rights to which they are entitled.”