ALBANY _ Gay-rights groups rallied Tuesday at the state Capitol in an effort to legalize same-sex marriages in New York.
With chants of "What do we want? Marriage. When do we want it? Now," more than 2,000 supporters sought to lobby state lawmakers to pass a same-sex marriage law before the legislative session ends in June.
"This is the first year we have a realistic chance," said Joann Prinzivalli, a White Plains lawyer who is the director of the New York Transgender Rights Association.
The state Assembly is expected to pass same-sex marriage legislation as soon as Monday; it first passed the bill in 2007. But the bill remains stalled in the state Senate, where Democrats hold a one-seat majority and several Democrats have said they will oppose the measure.
Gay-rights advocates vowed to try to persuade legislators, Democrats and Republicans, in an effort to get the measure passed this year. No Republican senators have voiced support for the legislation.
"We don't think that people who disagree with us are bigots and homophobes," said Allan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "We just think they don't have enough education."
Supporters have received the backing Gov. David Paterson, who spoke to the audience and urged them to continue to fight for the bill's passage. The Democratic governor earlier this month introduced a same-sex marriage bill. Four states -- Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts - can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"I want to sign a bill that will make marriage equality issued right here in New York state," said Paterson, who received a standing ovation from the crowd.
But Paterson irked some opponents of gay marriage when he suggested during his speech that religious groups who do not support it are doing so over guilt that they haven't stood up against discrimination.
"He is totally wrong," said the Rev. Duane Motley, of Spencerport, Monroe County, who heads New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. "Religious people are concerned about discrimination. And just because we come out opposed to something that he likes doesn't make us bad people."
In addition to same-sex marriage, the Empire State Pride Agenda is also seeking laws that prohibit transgender discrimination and protect gay students from harassments in schools.
Dozens of gay-rights advocates from Rochester talked to Sen. James Alesi, R-Perinton, Monroe County, outside the Senate chambers Tuesday afternoon and encouraged him to support the marriage equality bill. Alesi is among several Republicans whom advocates hope will vote for the bill.
"I hope you support this," said Sara Berger, 56, of Rochester, who said she wants equal rights for her and her partner of 31 years. "It's so important."
But Alesi continued to refuse to publicly say how he would vote. He said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, shouldn't look to him to help the Democratic agenda, saying Democrats are cutting resources and staff to Republican senators.
"It is not my job at this point to help the majority leader bring his controversial bill that the governor wants put on the floor," he said.
Another Republican senator being lobbied, Sen. Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie, said he would only support civil unions. "I do not anticipate supporting gay marriage," he said.