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The wait for one vote continues

Terry Purdue is hoping for history today, and his patience is wearing thin.

Purdue, 25, optimistic and in love, has logged dozens of hours for the right to marry the person he chooses. He has manned phone banks, attended letter-writing campaigns and wandered through crowds urging strangers to call their state senators.

For days, it has seemed so tantalizingly close. History and momentum seemed to be on his side. New York appeared to be on the verge of becoming the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage.

But Albany is a fickle place. Purdue had hoped to spend the weekend celebrating. Instead, he spent the weekend waiting.

"It's about time," Purdue said. "Couples can't wait any longer."

State senators -- scheduled to wrap up their legislative session this week -- went home Friday with the marriage equality bill still unresolved. Five senators earlier in the week agreed to support the bill, and for days, the legislation appeared just one vote short of passing. Just one vote short of extending rights to a population denied.

But by the end of the week, the bill was still on hold. And the frustration started to creep into Purdue's voice.

What if it had all been for naught? What if the momentum slipped away in the final hours? What if gay rights advocates had to wait for yet another Albany session, had to press through yet another election season, had to round up new votes?

Purdue didn't want to think about that, but he was certain there would be real anger from those who had poured their hearts and souls into this political fight if it fails to even come to a vote.

"It's not going to go away until it passes," Purdue said. "It's either, be ahead of the curve or be riding the wave, but either way, it's going to get passed."

Purdue was 19 when he told his parents he was gay. Six years later, he's in a three-year relationship that he hopes will one day lead to marriage.

But before that can happen, he has to wait for 62 senators to decide his future. Will he live in a state that continues to treat him like a second-class citizen when it comes to marriage? Or will he live in a state that allows him the freedom to enter into a civil marriage contract with the spouse of his choice?

Hopefully, Purdue will look back at today -- or possibly this week if the legislative session drags on -- as a historic moment in his life. A day when state senators took up not just the issues of taxes and rent control, but also helped strip away an antiquated policy of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Gregory Rabb, 59, has watched those layers of discrimination melt away over his lifetime.

The Jamestown professor remembers when it was news that he had come out of the closet at 40. He remembers the whisper campaign about his sexual orientation when he first ran for public office.

Today, the Jamestown City Council president jokes that he's in a "club of one" -- he believes he is the only openly gay elected official currently serving in Western New York.

"People are getting past the point where this is a big issue," Rabb said. "It still is with some people, but by and large, things have changed. I not only have legal rights, but as a Council member, I'm treated like everybody else. People talk to me about taxes. They don't talk to me about gay issues."

For Rabb, the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York is just one more step along a long road in which he saw years tick by as he waited for gay rights to be secured.

"Things don't happen overnight," Rabb said, "especially major social change."

History could be made today. Or we can look back and wonder why it wasn't.

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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