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GOP senator key to NY gay marriage OK concedes

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Republican state Sen. Stephen Saland, who cast the critical vote to legalize gay marriage in New York, on Thursday conceded his re-election bid, resulting in the third Republican to lose his office after being dogged by their historic votes.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the Republican as being "a model for our collective aspirations of how our elected officials should perform." Cuomo called Saland's vote courageous and one of conscience in his uncommon endorsement of Saland's re-election. Saland also negotiated protections into the bill so clergy opposed to gay marriage wouldn't be forced to perform those weddings, which was a critical step for approval.

With Saland's decision Thursday, Democrat Terry Gipson is the winner of the 41st Senate District race, which was too close to call on election night.

"I respectfully concede in my bid for state Senate and offer my sincere congratulations to Mr. Gipson," Saland said in a statement Thursday, ending 32 years in the Legislature. "It has truly been a great honor."

Saland's defeat means three of the four Republicans who cast the critical votes for gay marriage won't be returning to the Senate. Sen. Roy McDonald of Saratoga County was defeated in a Republican primary and Sen. James Alesi of Monroe County retired this year after strong opposition to his vote in his district. Sen. Mark Grisanti, a freshman from Erie County, won re-election.

Those votes were among the most difficult seen in Albany in decades and a stressed McDonald famously said anyone who wanted to vote him out of office for the vote of conscience could "take this job and shove it."

Cuomo called Saland "an exemplary representative."

"As a result of his courage, tens of thousands of couples here in New York State have the freedom to marry whom they choose," he said.

Cuomo added: "It is unfortunate that an elected official who stood so strong for equality, as Steve did, was not able to survive in today's political environment."

Saland didn't mention his landmark June 2011 vote in his statement conceding defeat. But he has repeatedly said before and after the election that he doesn't the regret the decision to cross the aisle in the Republican-controlled Senate to cast the deciding 32nd vote.

That vote, however, drew a primary challenge that proved his downfall. Conservative Republican Neil DiCarlo challenged Saland on his vote, forcing Saland to spend money and attention in a primary. When Saland narrowly won the GOP primary in September, DiCarlo ran in the general election on the Conservative Party line, drawing thousands of potential votes from Saland.

DiCarlo on Thursday said Saland was ousted by voters who "stood with me on principles." He called the Republican establishment "clueless" for backing Saland.

Gipson said Saland called him Thursday morning.

"He graciously wished me good luck going forward and expressed his affection for the people of the 41st District," Gipson said. "I want to be sure to acknowledge the long, distinguished career of Senator Saland. I think I can speak for all the people of Dutchess and Columbia counties in thanking him for his selfless dedication and service."

Saland has represented the district for 22 years and was among the most respected members of the Senate. He had sponsored important legislation for schools and to combat child abuse and domestic violence. Saland previously served 10 years in the Assembly and is the author of more than 350 laws.

"Steve is a highly-respected lawmaker and a dear friend," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos. "This chamber will miss Steve Saland's clear and steady voice, most notably in the areas of criminal justice and victim's rights."

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