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Rabbinic Scion Clinches Same-Sex Marriage

With religious exemptions in place, N.Y. state Sen. Saland voted his conscience

Allison Hoffman
June 27, 2011
A celebration Friday night in front of the historic Stonewall bar.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A celebration Friday night in front of the historic Stonewall bar.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Just before 10 p.m. on Friday, state Sen. Stephen Saland, a Republican, told the Associated Press he would supply the decisive 32nd vote to allow same-sex marriages in New York. “My vote is a vote of conscience,” he said. “I am doing the right thing in voting to support marriage equality.” Close Albany-watchers were tipped off, however, that Saland, 67, a Conservative Jew, would reverse his position on marriage from 2009, when he voted against a similar bill: His wife, Linda, was already in the gallery, and as one person told the New York Daily News, “She wasn’t coming to watch her husband vote no.”

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Saland was heavily lobbied by the Agudath Israel, an ultra-Orthodox advocacy group, which appealed to Saland’s family tree—he is a relation of Shmuel Salant, the powerful late-19th-century chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Jerusalem—to sway him. But people familiar with the lobbying effort told Tablet Magazine in its final days that the group was less concerned with blocking the legislation than with making sure that if it passed, it would provide sufficient exemptions for religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage. (On Saturday, the Anti-Defamation League applauded both the exemptions and the legalization of same-sex marriage.)

Those exemptions were enacted before the dramatic vote, in no small part thanks to Saland’s quiet negotiations with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Thus, late Friday night, Saland was able to tell the Senate, the public, and his wife that he was voting according to what he learned in his Jewish household. “My parents taught us to be respectful, tolerant, and accepting of others, and to do the right thing,” Saland explained in his floor speech. “I must define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality in the definition of law as it pertains to marriage. To do otherwise would fly in the face of my upbringing.”

Allison Hoffman is the executive editor of CNN Politics.