Rabbi Noson S. Leiter of Torah Jews for Decency tried Thursday to get Senator James S. Alesi to reverse himself and oppose same-sex marriage
ALBANY — The Rev. Duane R. Motley, a Baptist minister, stood in a marble hallway in the Capitol on Thursday, frustrated. Behind the closed door, all of the Senate Republicans were meeting with one of the state’s most prominent supporters of same-sex marriage, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. But Mr. Motley, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, could not get the same audience.
“They won’t let me address them,” Mr. Motley groused, before returning to huddle with a group of local pastors. “God has defined what marriage is, and the government doesn’t have the right to redefine it.”
Advocates for same-sex marriage have attracted months of attention with video testimonials from celebrities, support from business leaders and speeches by elected officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. But in Albany, opponents have found it harder to garner attention for their arguments — chiefly that God and natural law had established marriage as between a man and a woman, and that the state should not try to change that.
“Even ultra-liberal senators should understand that the government should have no right to impose a counter-biblical definition of marriage, family and gender,” said Rabbi Noson S. Leiter, executive director of Torah Jews for Decency, a group based in Monsey, N.Y.
On Thursday, Rabbi Leiter and other clergy members adopted a strategy similar to that used by gay-rights advocates, buttonholing on-the-fence lawmakers and giving interviews to the growing pack of reporters here.
In one sign of just how close the Senate is to passing same-sex marriage, some opponents said they were now focusing on seeking stronger protections for religious organizations in the legislation they wanted to block.
“If we have to live with it,” Mr. Motley said, “we want the best protections we can get.”
The Rev. Bill Banuchi, who runs a nondenominational Christian marriage counseling center in Newburgh, N.Y., said he had come to Albany to try to persuade a nearby senator, Stephen M. Saland, a Poughkeepsie Republican whose vote is seen as pivotal, to oppose the measure.
But Mr. Banuchi said he was particularly concerned with how the legislation proposed by Mr. Cuomo would affect his center — namely, whether he would be forced to counsel gay couples. The Cuomo administration has said that the marriage measure would protect religious organizations, but Mr. Banuchi said his center had no religious affiliation.
“Our practice is called Marriage and Family Savers Institute,” Mr. Banuchi said. “If this bill passes, it’s going to undermine all the work we’re trying to do to preserve nuclear families in our culture.”
Opponents of the legislation have struggled at times to gain traction in recent weeks, particularly in contrast to the high-wattage lobbying effort on behalf of gay-rights groups. They have often seemed less organized, and less visible, than supporters of same-sex marriage, who formed an umbrella coalition this year after their own disorganization and infighting were partly cited for the defeat of the legislation two years ago.
But opponents have been traveling the state making their case, engaging in the fight on Twitter and other forms of social media, and lobbying at the Capitol, directly and indirectly.
For instance, a rabbi was spotted on Wednesday praying outside the Republicans’ first closed-door meeting on marriage.
And last month the National Organization for Marriage, an advocacy group that fights against same-sex marriage around the country, promised to spend $1 million to mount primary election challenges against any Republican lawmaker who supported same-sex marriage.
Mr. Motley, the senior lobbyist for a group called New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, said he had already been contacted by Republicans interested in running against the two Republican senators who this week said they would support the marriage bill, James S. Alesi of Monroe County and Roy J. McDonald of Saratoga County. Mr. Motley would not identify any possible candidates.
Mr. Motley, who has lobbied on religious issues for 29 years, said his job had been getting harder, because some of the younger legislators who took office in recent years “have a different mind-set.”
“Many of them are not married, so they don’t understand,” he said. “And many of them are not spiritual.”
Some lawmakers have been quite explicit about their frustration with some opponents of same-sex marriage. Senator Diane J. Savino, Democrat of Staten Island, taped a handwritten sign outside her legislative office this week that said, “Bigots and homophobes please put your literature here,” with an arrow pointing to a box lid on the ground.
On her Facebook wall Ms. Savino wrote, “If you could see and hear some of the rhetoric you would appreciate my sign.”