New York Governor David Paterson appears to have altered his push on gay marriage from a hard-line to a soft-pedal.

Last Thursday, the Democratic governor announced he would personally lobby for a gay marriage bill, adding he wanted the Senate to debate the issue even if it failed.

But Wednesday, he backpedaled, saying he would go along with the judgment of State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, a gay marriage supporter who has repeatedly said he would not bring up the bill unless it appeared likely to pass.

“On this particular bill, there are a lot of other issues related to it,” Paterson told reporters, Newsday reports. “Senator Smith knows the inertia of the Senate better than anyone else ... I'll stick with his final judgment.”

Last week after Paterson's announcement, Smith said he was “very concerned about putting a bill on the floor that's going to be symbolism and not pass.”

Gay marriage supporters know that at least four Senate Democrats side with the Republican minority in opposing gay marriage. Democrats hold a slim 2 seat majority in the Senate, where the bill is most likely to fail. Passage would require changing the minds of at least three senators, and Smith has said he would prefer an even larger majority.

There is reason for gay marriage supporters to hope, however.

A strong public opinion shift on the issue in New York might prove to be the inducement on-the-fence senators need to vote on the bill.

Last week, a poll conducted by the Siena College Research Institute found public approval of gay marriage had jumped in New York. The poll found approval had climbed 7% in the last year (10% since 2007), and for the first time a majority (53%) of New Yorkers approve of gay nuptials.

And today, two more major New York papers – the Post-Standard and the Press Republican – editorialized in favor of legalizing gay marriage.

“Same-sex marriage is a civil-rights issue, and on that, the government has only one choice: to come down heavily in favor of the civil rights of everyone,” wrote the editors of the Press Republican.

Peter Kaufmann, a spokesman for the governor, brushed off the suggestion that Paterson was backpedaling on the issue. Kaufmann said that Paterson continues to believe in open debate but would not demand that Smith bring the gay marriage bill to the floor.