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Grisanti taken to task by GOP, Conservatives

Three days after his historic vote to legalize same-sex marriage in New York, State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti defended his action on the home front Monday while absorbing a series of political body blows from furious Republican and Conservative leaders.

The Buffalo Republican, whose underdog victory last November swung control of the Senate to the GOP, also would not rule out running as a Democrat when he faces the voters again in 2012, backing off on a blanket rejection of such a move that he made after the Friday vote.

"I'm not saying I will rule it out," he said during an afternoon news conference in the Mahoney State Office Building, "but I do not see that -- jumping over to the Democratic side."

He also said he took the vote as a matter of conscience and without regard for the political consequences.

The rookie senator, who first ran for his Senate seat as a Democrat in 2008, said reaction has been split down the middle since he commanded national attention with his Friday vote. But leaders of the Republican and Conservative parties lashed out at him in particularly harsh terms Monday for what they said was a betrayal of a promise to vote against the measure.

"He knew going into the vote that if, in fact, he voted for same-sex marriage, he would forgo our endorsement," said State Conservative Chairman Michael R. Long. "That's a certainty. That will happen."

Grisanti fared no better with his own party as Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy made clear his disapproval that the senator went his own way on a key issue.

"For Mark to go back on his word that he gave to his constituents and to me -- I am deeply disappointed," Langworthy said.

While Grisanti has drawn praise from gay rights advocates and others in his largely Democratic district, he began to feel the political ramifications Monday. Langworthy and Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo were especially critical of his reneging on a promise to vote against the measure while campaigning last year.

"He informed me by text while he was on the floor," Langworthy said of Grisanti's Friday vote. "I urged him to stick by his word he had given. The people elected him on what he ran on. This is not tax policy or something. This is important stuff."

Lorigo said the promises made by people participating in a representative democracy should be kept. "When [Grisanti] told us he would not support gay marriage, that's something we have to rely on," Lorigo said.

But Grisanti told reporters he changed his mind after he researched the legalities of the situation and determined that another bill might not protect religious organizations and other institutions refusing to recognize the legality of same-sex marriage.

"I did not receive any promises from the governor, and I certainly did not trade it for UB 2020," he said. "I was insulted when people say I traded a vote for this or that.

"It's true I said I'm not for same-sex marriage, but I also said people have rights."

Long was also critical of Senate Republicans for even allowing the measure to come to the floor for a vote, as was Lorigo. The Erie County chairman said Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, could have defused the entire situation by substituting a civil union plan for gay marriage. "Skelos is supposedly the leader of the Republican Senate," Lorigo said. "I don't see how he led in this situation, whatsoever."

But Grisanti reiterated Monday that the experience of other states shows that civil unions are unsuccessful and that while he struggled with his views as a Catholic against gay marriage, he ultimately could not justify denying an entire group of citizens the same rights he has being married to his wife.

Langworthy said he does not yet know how the party will view Grisanti at endorsement time next year "but I think he has a lot of explaining to do to the people who helped him."

Lorigo said that he has never "drawn a line in the sand" over the issue but that nobody he has talked with in the Conservative Party is happy about the Grisanti vote. "It would take a lot to be able to get back to supporting him," Lorigo said.

Lorigo was also critical of Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who voted for the measure after running on the Conservative line in 2010 -- but not quite as harshly as he was with Grisanti.

"Tim Kennedy also has to explain what he's been doing for us when he comes back," Lorigo said. "I expect him to champion Conservative values. I want to see him do that before next year."

Lorigo also expressed his disapproval of Buffalo Democrat Mark J.F. Schroeder's vote for the measure in the Assembly, which did not prevent him from receiving the party nod for city comptroller.

"Mark is a fiscal conservative," Lorigo said, "and because he has done so much on the Second Amendment and on his pro-life stand, he has cut himself some slack."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com