In June 2011, four New York Republican state senators broke ranks to vote for the law legalizing gay marriage in the Empire State, and three Democrats who had previously voted against the measure joined them. Gay-marriage opponents vowed to oust them in this month’s primaries.
The results from Thursday’s low-turnout primary aren’t complete given uncounted absentee ballots. But it is clear the National Organization for Marriage and other traditional-marriage groups drew some blood. One of the four Republicans, James Alesi, announced his retirement earlier this year rather than face a potential challenger. Senator Roy McDonald of Saratoga Springs has apparently lost, and Senator Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie had a 42-vote lead with 600 absentee ballots left to be counted.
Democratic senator Shirley Huntley of Queens lost her primary — her recent indictment on fraud charges combined with her flip-flop on gay marriage to hurt her standing with voters. Democratic senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn was forced to resign after being convicted on corruption charges, and a pro-traditional-marriage Republican won the special election for his seat.
The only clear survivor among the pro-gay marriage senators who were targeted is Buffalo Republican Mark Grisanti. But 40 percent of Republicans in his district voted against him, and he faces a Conservative party challenger who could drain enough votes from him to cost him the general election against a Democrat this fall.
The results in New York’s primaries are only a warm-up act for battles over gay marriage this November in four left-leaning states that voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington will all decide ballot initiatives on the issue.