By PAUL VITELLO -
Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders, determined to head off momentum for same-sex marriage in Albany, say they are mobilizing an extensive campaign to block legislation that would make New York the sixth state to allow gay men and lesbians to wed.
“Our pastors are fired up by the governor’s assault on marriage,” said the Rev. Jason J. McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a lobbying group that represents evangelical churches in the state. “We’re already in gear.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage have already financed a wave of 500,000 automated calls urging voters to contact undecided lawmakers. And the traditional religious coalition that has fought same-sex marriage in previous legislative sessions now counts among its members Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who played only a muted role the last time the issue was debated, in 2009, when he had just been appointed to lead the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
Archbishop Dolan addressed the same-sex marriage issue in March during an interview on the CBS program “60 Minutes,” urging policy makers not to tamper with the definition of what he termed “authentic marriage.”
“I love my mom, but I don’t have the right to marry her,” said the archbishop, whose national public profile as a spokesman for church values rose last year, when he was elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Same-sex marriage legislation was defeated in the New York Legislature in 2009, when both the Assembly and the Senate were controlled by Democrats; this year, the Senate is controlled by Republicans. But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has said that same-sex marriage is a top priority for him, leading some activists on both sides of the issue to believe it is possible that the measure will come up for a vote again before June 20, the end of the legislative session.
There are religious leaders and voters on both sides of the issue. Religious leaders who support same-sex marriage include many clergy members from mainline Protestant churches, as well as the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism.
But their role in legislative contests in past years has been less aggressive than that of religious opponents. Sharon Groves, the director of the religion and faith program of the Human Rights Campaign, said her organization had been reaching out to sympathetic clergy members throughout the state, urging them to become more prominent in this year’s contest in Albany.
Religious opponents of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, have already begun using church bulletins, diocesan newspapers and sermons from the pulpit to encourage their followers to contact legislators and let them know how they feel. They make a two-tiered argument. First, they cite biblical injunctions against homosexuality. Second, they warn that social services, like foster care and adoption, provided by religiously sponsored charities could be endangered by the legalization of same-sex marriage. They point to Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., where Catholic Charities stopped participating in adoption services rather than face a mandate to place children in homes without regard to the sexual orientation of the couple.
Nathan Diament, a lobbyist for the Orthodox Union, the largest association of Orthodox Jewish congregations in the country, said many Orthodox rabbis had contacted him for information about this year’s marriage bill. “Aside from the moral issues, their major concern is religious liberty,” he said.
But State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who has co-sponsored the same-sex marriage bill in past years, said civil liability for violating discrimination laws was already a fact of life. As for adoption, which is already legal for same-sex couples in New York, she said, “My guess is that most same-sex couples skip over the Catholic adoption services in the Yellow Pages.”
The Rev. Rubén Díaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister and state senator from the Bronx, has been a leader of the opposition to same-sex marriage. A Bronx rally he organized against the bill in 2009 attracted 20,000 people. Recently, after he announced plans for a similar rally to be held on May 15, Mr. Díaz said he received death threats and asked the State Police to investigate.
As in past years, the local religious opposition to same-sex marriage will have the support of a Washington-based national political lobby, the National Organization for Marriage, which formed in 2007 to fight same-sex legislation around the country. That organization was behind the April 12 blitz of automated phone calls singling out voters in about a dozen Senate and Assembly districts where legislators have said they are undecided. Brian Brown, the group’s president, said the calls urged voters to tell lawmakers they opposed same-sex marriage.
“We spent over half a million dollars in New York” in 2009, he said, “and we’re ready to spend that and more this time. We are willing to spend a million against any Republican senator who votes for gay marriage.”
The group would not say which lawmakers were singled out. But State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., a Democrat from Queens who has voted against the bill in the past but said he was undecided this time, said, “We’ve gotten about 400 calls and e-mails from voters in the last two weeks, the vast majority of them opposed to the bill.” Mr. Addabbo said he kept count because he planned to cast a vote on the bill that “reflects the will of my constituents.”
The federal tax code bars religious organizations from supporting candidates for office, but they are free to address public-policy issues, and many are speaking out on same-sex marriage. The Rev. William Gillison, vice chairman of the Empire Missionary Baptist Convention, which represents several hundred Baptist churches around the state, said he had preached against legalizing same-sex marriage many times at his church in Buffalo, and would again. “This is a case where the state has entered an area that rightfully belongs to the church, not the other way around,” he said.