NEW YORK -- Gov. David Paterson announced plans Thursday to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of New York, making a political gamble that he can ride the momentum of other states that have recently allowed the practice.
The proposal is the same bill the Democrat-controlled state Assembly passed in 2007 before it died in the Senate, where the Republican majority kept it from going to a vote. Democrats now control the Senate, but opponents are vowing to make sure this one fails, as well.
The governor's approval ratings have plunged to below 20 percent, and it's still unclear how the legislation will play in the state. Paterson says gay marriage is a crucial issue of equal rights in America that cannot be ignored.
"I'm introducing a bill to bring marriage equality to the state of New York," Paterson said to applause, surrounded by leaders including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is a lesbian.
Paterson, who is black, framed the issue in sweeping terms, invoking abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe and drawing a parallel between the fight to eliminate slavery in the 1800s to the current effort to allow gay marriage.
"Rights should not be stifled by fear. What we should understand is that silence should not be a response to injustice. And that if we take not action, we will surely lose," Paterson said.
Paterson said gay and lesbian couples are denied as many as 1,350 civil protections -- such as health care and pension rights -- because they cannot marry.
Gay marriage is now legal in four states, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Iowa.
At the same time Paterson was to announce his proposal, Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, an opponent of same-sex marriage, planned to meet with religious leaders to discuss how to block the bill.
Diaz, who is an evangelical pastor, said his meeting in the Bronx was to inform Hispanics, Catholics, evangelicals and others opposed to same-sex marriage of their options to prevent the bill's passage.
Diaz also said it is "disrespectful" of Paterson to introduce the legislation in the same week that Catholics celebrated the installation of New York City Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
Paterson attended the ceremony Wednesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
"I think it's a laugh in the face of the new archbishop," Diaz said Thursday before the start of his meeting. "The Jews just finished their holy week. The Catholics just received the new archbishop. The evangelical Christians just celebrated Good Friday and resurrection. He comes out to do this at this time? It's a challenge the governor is sending to every religious person in New York and the time for us has come for us to accept the challenge."