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GOP state senator who voted for gay marriage drops out of race

The Republican state senator who lost a primary after voting for gay marriage is dropping out of the race. Senator Roy McDonald says he will not campaign on the Independence Party line in the general election and will instead back his former primary opponent.  McDonald, in a statement, says he has decided not to continue campaigning on the Independence Party line for the November vote. McDonald narrowly lost a GOP primary following his decision to vote yes to help get gay marriage approved in New York last year.

McDonald says he is  quitting for the unity of the part, and will now back Saratoga City Clerk Kathy Marchione as the GOP’s candidate.  If McDonald had actively campaigned, he could have split the vote with Marchione and caused the Democratic candidate in the race to win. That could have made a big difference in the Senate, where the GOP holds a razor thin majority.  McDonald says he believes in keeping the state senate in Republican hands.    

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who one day earlier told McDonald in a letter that if the senator decided to remain in the race, he would cross party lines and endorse him.

“I understand the pros and cons both ways,” said Cuomo, who says he told McDonald in the letter, “I support whatever you decide.”

Cuomo says a third party candidacy for McDonald  “would have been an uphill battle,” but he says the senator would have had support. Groups supporting gay marriage have said they would have donated money and helped the senator with get-out-the-vote efforts.

Empire State Pride Agenda’s Lynn Faria called Senator McDonald, “a man of principle who made the humble decision to step aside in the interest of his party.”

The pro-traditional marriage group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms says the end to McDonald’s senate career means “values voters” have followed through with their warnings against Republican senators who voted for gay marriage last year.

“Rogue Republicans are being held accountable,” said the Reverend Jason McGuire.  

Three other Republican senators voted for same sex marriage and ensured passage of the law in June of 2011. One, Senator James Alesi of Rochester, decided not to seek re-election for other reasons.  Senator Mark Grisanti of the Buffalo area easily beat back a primary challenge, while Senator Stephen Saland of the Hudson Valley squeaked by primary challenger Neil DiCarlo.  Cuomo says he does not think those events should discourage other politicians in other states from sticking up for same sex marriage, if they believe it’s the right thing to do.

“I think you could argue it the exact opposite way,” Cuomo said.

McDonald, in a lengthy list of his accomplishments during his years in the senate, did not mention the passage of same-sex marriage . He instead touted his work to secure health insurance and other rights for people with autism. McDonald has two grandsons who are on the autism spectrum.

The contest will now be between Marchione, who is against gay marriage, and Democratic candidate Robin Andrews, who is a town supervisor in Columbia County and a married lesbian.

Andrews, in a statement, says voters are now facing a clear choice. She says the race going forward should not be about same sex marriage, but who can better look to the future for the residents of the district.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.