NEW YORK – New York Republican Senator Greg Ball, one of the swing votes that could give the gay marriage bill enough votes to pass, said Monday night that he would be an "absolute no" without religious protections in the bill.
"We're not talking about passing civil unions which I think would pass right away and very easily. We have a governor who is pushing to get full marriage equality and to that extent there needs to be real religious protections in any final piece of legislation," said Ball on CNN.
The gay marriage bill in New York has 31 votes and needs one more vote to pass the state Senate. The measure was approved by the New York State Assembly last Wednesday, 80 to 63.
Republicans have been mulling over whether to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The Legislature could not reach a compromise on the same-sex marriage bill and two other major issues – the property tax cap and New York City rent regulation – on Monday, the last day of the legislative session. Legislators could be kept in Albany during an extended session until Wednesday.
In his interview with CNN Monday night, Ball pointed out that his concerns over religious protections are based on what has happened in other states that have legalized same-sex marriage.
"We're not talking in some fairyland. We're talking about something very real and we don't this seeing played out in New York state," he said.
The Republican senator of Patterson identified three categories where religious protections are needed: language to protect individuals who conduct marriage ceremonies under religious institutions, language to protect religious organizations like Knights of Columbus so their tax exemption status and operating permits won't be affected and language to protect individuals that have religious objections.
"That's the toughest needle to thread," said Ball of protections for individuals with religious objections. "I believe the governor should at least pay respect to that side of argument as well."
CNN's Christine Romans posed, "If you got all the protections that you say you need there, in theory you support gay marriage in New York?"
"I look at it from a different angle and say, without those religious protections, I would be an absolute no," responded Ball. "The other side (undecided Republican senators), I can't speak for them but I can tell you that without the religious protections from my personal perspective I don’t see how the governor gets it done."
Romans continued to press Ball for a direct answer, saying that either he supports gay marriage or he doesn't and that other things become just "politics," such as "dotting the i's and crossing the t's."
"Wait, wait, wait. Dotting the i's and crossing the t's is exactly what we're supposed to be doing as responsible legislators," asserted Ball.
He added, "Just so you understand, just like there are those on the right who don't necessarily appreciate those on the left that view it as a civil rights issue, there are those on the left that are pushing this bill and advising the governor who do not really pay respect to the fact that there are those on the right who view it as an affront to their firmly held religious beliefs."
Ball is not the only undecided Republican senator on gay marriage. Other fence-sitting Republican senators include Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie and Andrew Lanza of Long Island.
But Ball is the only one so far to ask for feedback via Twitter on how he should vote. On Saturday, the undecided Republican senator tweeted through his Ball4NY account: "Opening up the discussion! So, if you were me, how would you vote on gay marriage? Yes or No?"
Speaking to Politico, Ball said that feedback on Twitter has been overwhelming in favor of the bill, response on Facebook has been a 50-50 split, and calls and letters to his district office have been running 60-40 in favor of a “no” vote.
Opponents of same-sex marriage in New York have been urging constituents to lobby undecided senators to vote "no" on the bill. National Organization for Marriage is also asking its supporters to urge Senators John Flanagan of Long Island, Joseph Addabbo of Howard Beach and Shirley Huntley of Jamaica to vote against gay marriage.
"We don't know what will happen. It's critical that people continue to contact their senators because it's having an effect," Brian Brown, president of National Organization for Marriage, told The Christian Post.
On Monday, hundreds of protesters against the legalization of gay marriage in New York jammed the hallways of the Capitol building, singing hymns, praying, and holding signs in support of traditional marriage. Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree also joined the demonstration, saying the gay marriage bill is bad for society and bad for Christians.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms also delivered 63,000 petitions against the same-sex marriage bill to Senate Republicans on Monday.
It is the fourth time since 2009 that New York legislators have considered a bill legalizing gay marriage. If the legislation on gay marriage is approved, New York would be the sixth and most populous state to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Brown said that gay marriage advocates are desperate for a victory since they failed in two other states this year.
"Same-sex marriage advocates predicted that three states would pass same-sex marriage this year by the legislature: Maryland, Rhode Island and New York. They failed in Maryland and Rhode Island. That was pretty devastating so they are putting all their efforts to passing this in New York," he said.
Recent polls have shown that New Yorkers favor gay marriage. A Quinnipiac Poll released in early June found that that 58 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing marriage for same-sex couples, while only 36 percent oppose.
Opponents of gay marriage say New Yorkers would vote against marriage for same-sex couples if the issue were put on a statewide referendum.
"The polls are totally bogus," stated Brown. "As evidence of that, we've always supported a referendum. I support one right now. The people that want these polls don't want a referendum ... They are concerned they would lose if they had a statewide referendum."