Jewish Lawmaker Key to N.Y. Marriage Bill
Scion of prominent rabbinic family has been lobbied by ultra-Orthodox
New York is one vote away from becoming the next (and sixth) state to allow same-sex marriage. Three Republican lawmakers—any of whom could provide the crucial swing vote—and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, met Wednesday and again last night to hammer out a deal before the legislative session closes on Monday. Policy-wise, one of the last remaining stumbling blocks to obtaining that vote involves the consequences for religious institutions that philosophically oppose gay marriage, who say they will be vulnerable to lawsuits or regulatory holdups if the bill passes.
One of those three pivotal state legislators is Sen. Stephen Saland, Republican from Poughkeepsie. Saland, who is Jewish, has been a particular target of a lobbying push mounted by Agudath Israel—an umbrella group representing the interests of ultra-Orthodox Jews—which argues that the same-sex marriage bill could curtail religious freedom for organizations bound to observe the new law—a touchstone of the case the group made to New Jersey lawmakers in 2009, when that state considered (and failed to pass) its own same-sex marriage bill.
Saland is himself Conservative, and his district falls both north and east of ultra-Orthodox strongholds in Rockland County and the Catskills. But he is, according to people familiar with the Agudath campaign, directly related to Shmuel Salant, a prominent rabbi of the late 19th century who served as the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem until his death in 1909. The Agudath has, accordingly, sweetened its appeals with references to the lawmaker’s family tree—and some enthusiastic supporters in Jerusalem are rumored to have gone so far as to have prayed at Salant’s grave in hopes of his intercession in the matter. It remains to be seen whether Saland, who said earlier this week that he is being bombarded with calls from both sides of the issue, will hear and heed their entreaties.