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Key GOP New York Senator: Obama 'Passing The Ball' On Gay Marriage

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JIM ALESI

New York legislator James Alesi, the first Republican in the state Senate to come out in favor of the Marriage Equality Act, has a message for Barack Obama.

Obama's viewpoint on states' rights regarding marriage equality -- which he expounded at an LGBT fundraiser in New York City on Thursday, the night before the gay marriage bill passed -- is all well and good, Alesi told HuffPost, but not nearly enough.

Alesi's decision to support gay marriage came two years after he reluctantly voted against it in 2009, when the measure was defeated by a 38 to 24 margin in the state Senate. His flip to the marriage equality side provided a big boost to the marriage bill's fortunes and made it easier for three more Senate Republicans to follow in his footsteps.

Since his June 13 announcement, Alesi has become a vocal and enthusiastic supporter of marriage equality, even offering to talk with Republican legislators in other states. His stance goes much further than that of President Obama.

"You just cannot have equality in one state and not in another," Alesi said. Obama's current position, he argued, was "passing the ball."

"I understand that constitutionally the president is right, because it's a states' rights issue, otherwise New York wouldn't have been able to pass this," he said. "But there's nothing wrong with the most powerful person in the world espousing a viewpoint."

Obama has said that while he opposes same-sex marriage, he believes it is an issue best left up to the states to decide. His administration has argued that the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay and lesbian unions, is unconstitutional.

The fact that Obama, who may or may not have been a marriage equality supporter in the 1990s, is now the country's most high-profile opponent of gay marriage, should defuse the highly partisan nature of the debate thus far, Alesi thinks.

"Why are we making this a Republican issue?" he asked.

That doesn't mean, however, that Alesi intends to let members of his own party off the hook on the matter. Alesi describes himself as a "moderate Republican," and said, "I do believe that the Republican Party has to be much broader in its views if it's going to be a big tent party."