GOPERS SAY YEA TO GAY RIGHTS
By FREDRIC U. DICKER and KENNETH LOVETT
December 18, 2002 -- ALBANY - Thirty years after it was first introduced, a gay-rights bill banning discrimination against homosexuals won swift passage yesterday in the GOP-controlled state Senate.
The measure, which had languished for years in the Senate despite being repeatedly passed in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, was approved 34-26 after less than two hours of generally restrained debate.
Only a handful of Republicans backed the measure, but the Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said that after years of opposition, he decided to vote for what has come to be known as "SONDA," or the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act.
"I'm going to vote for this legislation and have decided that I would vote for it to express tolerance," said Bruno, an upstate conservative who has been under pressure from Gov. Pataki to support the measure.
Cheers rang out from the packed Senate galleries after the measure was approved.
Pataki, who aggressively courted and won the support of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state's largest gay-rights group, during his campaign has vowed to sign the measure.
"Today's vote is an important victory for tolerance and reflects my conviction that New Yorkers are one people who must stand together," Pataki said in a statement.
The Senate's only openly gay member, Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), said he was "very happy."
But Duane vowed to fight on for an amendment to the new bill banning discrimination against "transgender" people who live or dress as members of the opposite sex.
The amendment received only 19 votes.
About two dozen transgender activists faced off against a smaller group of "traditional values" supporters in the bitter cold outside the Capitol before the vote was held.
Melissa Sklarz, a Manhattan credit-union manager who said she "was born a man and am now a female," contended, "Including transgendered and transsexuals in the legislation sends an important message that it's OK to look different and still deserve civil rights."
New York City passed a gay-rights measure in 1986.
New York would be the 13th state to enact a gay-rights law if the measure is signed by Pataki.