ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — After a day of more closed-door negotiations, New York's Senate left unsettled a bill to legalize gay marriage, setting up a pivotal showdown Wednesday as lawmakers look to end the legislative session and national groups look for a sign of things to come on the divisive issue.
The vote in the New York legislature is seen as a critical moment in the national debate over same-sex marriage.
The Assembly has already passed Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's bill, and the issue appears to be one vote shy from approval in the Senate, if the Republican caucus which mostly opposes gay marriage allows the measure to the floor for a vote.
The effort to legalize same-sex marriage largely stalled two years ago when the state Senate voted it down. Since then, the movement has failed in Maryland, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Advocates hope a "yes" vote in New York will jumpstart the effort.
Susan Lerner, a good government advocate from the group Common Cause, said this year's debate has attracted more attention than any social issue since the abortion fights of the 1970s.
In 2008, gay marriage advocates gave a major financial hand to Democrats who won the state Senate, the first time Republicans were out of control in 50 years. Democrats promised to legalize gay marriage but failed in 2009, then lost the majority in 2010.
"Even though the gay marriage issue today is probably most analogous to the abortion debate, it is very different even from that," said Steven Greenberg, a former Assembly staffer who now works for the Siena College poll that tracks state issues.
Greenberg said the abortion debate didn't come with the legions of lobbyists and large cash infusions like today's gay marriage debate.
On Tuesday, Albany's backroom dealing cleared the way for a possible vote.
After an expected marathon session to pass a mega deal involving tax, tuition and other issues, the Republican-led Senate now will be able to focus on whether to release a gay marriage bill to the floor for a vote.
"I believe the people are entitled to a vote and let the elected officials stand up and say 'yea' or 'nay,'" Cuomo said. "I believe that's how democracy works ... I believe there will be a vote and I am cautiously optimistic that it will pass."
Two Republicans clearly undecided are Sen. Stephen Saland of the Hudson Valley, one of the Senate's most veteran and respected members; and Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, a freshman who is part of the GOP youth movement voted into office in the 2010 Republican tide nationwide.
Negotiations continue over additional religious protections that some undecided Republicans have sought, and progress appears to have been made in closed-door talks.
"We're open to doing amendments that guarantee religious freedom in this state," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, indicating a key movement on his part.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican opposed to gay marriage, said language regarding religious protection has not been finalized.
"That is still being reviewed," he said.
Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. Of them, all but Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., allow at least limited religious exemptions.
New York's legislative session had been scheduled to end Monday.
Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report.