|The State Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, after a meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday.|
ALBANY — State senators were poised to decide the fate of same-sex marriage late Thursday night or Friday morning as their legislative session wound down to its final hours.Gay-rights advocates were hopeful that the same-sex marriage bill, which had been approved by the State Assembly and supported by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, would win passage before lawmakers ended their annual session.
The prospects for a vote remained unclear. Several Republican and Democratic senators predicted there would be a vote in the early hours of Friday morning. But Republicans, who control the chamber, had not yet met to make a decision about whether to allow a vote on the measure.
By 9 p.m. Thursday, the number of senators who had voiced support for the measure — 31 out of 62, or one short of a majority — had not changed in over a week. And negotiations over protections for religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage had yielded no final agreement between Republicans and Mr. Cuomo, raising the prospect that the Legislature could adjourn without addressing the controversial measure.
“We’re not going to work under time constraints,” Dean G. Skelos, the Republican Senate leader and an opponent of same-sex marriage, said Thursday. “We’ll do it when the conference is ready.”
Two Republican senators, James S. Alesi of Monroe County and Roy J. McDonald of the capital region, joined 29 Democrats last week in saying they would vote for same-sex marriage if it came to the Senate floor.
Same-sex marriage advocates have focused since then on trying to win over the several Republican senators who have publicly described themselves as undecided or are considered open to persuasion: Stephen M. Saland, a veteran lawmaker from the Hudson Valley; Mark J. Grisanti, a freshman whose Buffalo district is overwhelmingly Democratic; and John J. Flanagan of Long Island. Mr. Saland and Mr. Flanagan both voted against the bill in 2009, when the Senate overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriage.
“My position hasn’t changed,” Mr. Flanagan said Thursday.
Two other Republican swing votes, Gregory R. Ball of Putnam County and Andrew J. Lanza of Staten Island, appear to be less open to voting yes, but are still being courted by same-sex marriage proponents, several lobbyists on the measure said.
But Mr. Ball said in an e-mail on Thursday evening that he expected to vote against same-sex marriage.
“Now that the final text is becoming public, I am proud that I have secured some strong protections for religious institutions and basic protections for religious organizations,” he said. “Yet the bill obviously seems to lack many of the basic religious protections I thought vital, and for this reason, and as I did in the Assembly, I will probably be voting ‘no.’ ”
Strategists on the pro-gay-marriage side have also courted a second group of lawmakers who are firmly opposed to the measure but have indicated they would be inclined to let it come to the floor for an up-or-down vote, in part to dampen charges of obstructionism against the bill by the Senate majority.
But controversial bills rarely go to a vote in the Senate unless a majority of lawmakers first reach an internal consensus to bring them to the floor.
“I hope the bill fails, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Hugh T. Farley, a long-serving Republican from Schenectady.
Most Republican senators say they strongly oppose the measure on religious or moral grounds. Still others are worried that it would provoke a spate of primary challenges — or low turnout among conservatives — next year, when Republicans will be battling to retain their one-vote Senate majority in newly redrawn legislative districts that could prove less hospitable to long-serving incumbents.
“It’s a sore point,” said Martin J. Golden, a Brooklyn Republican who opposes the measure. “Some people have feelings toward it. Some people don’t think we should even touch it.”
But supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage were also preparing for another possibility: a sudden vote on same-sex marriage called late Thursday or early Friday.
Mr. Alesi, who has been feted by gay-rights advocates in recent days after he become the first Republican senator in the state to back the marriage bill, said he believed the issue was too important, the pressure on his colleagues too great, for the Senate to block a vote.
“I don’t see how the conference doesn’t bring this to the floor at this point,” Mr. Alesi said. “I respect the collective will of my conference, but I believe on an issue as important as this to the Republican Party as well as to the L.G.B.T. community, I feel our conference has to bring this bill to the floor.”
But Mr. Alesi added, “Albany is not a place to make predictions.”