Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bill to give gay couples the right to wed was approved by New York lawmakers, making the U.S. state the sixth and most-populous to legalize same-sex marriage.
Spectators in the Senate gallery erupted in cheers and tears after the Republican-controlled body voted 33-29 last night to approve the measure. Four Republicans joined 29 of 30 Democrats voting in favor after amendments were added to boost protections for religious institutions. The Democratic- controlled Assembly passed the amendments earlier in the night and the original bill 80-63 last week.
“What this state said today brings this discussion of marriage equality to a new plane,” Cuomo told reporters in Albany following the vote. “It’s a powerful message all across the nation, no doubt, that this is the direction to go and the time to do it is now and it is achievable.”
Cuomo signed the bill less than two hours after the vote, meaning same-sex couples will be able to marry in New York in 30 days. The 53-year-old Democrat made marriage equality one of three priorities in his first six months in office. The Legislature approved his property-tax cap last night and an ethics law for public officials on June 3.
“This was a period of historic progress on all fronts,” Cuomo said. “We really did what we said we were going to do.”
Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as does Washington, D.C., according to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which advocates equal rights for gay, bisexual and transgender people. New York, along with Maryland, recognizes such marriages from other jurisdictions. With 19.4 million residents, New York is the third most-populous state.
“It was historic, it was overwhelming,” said Allen Gosser, a 45-year-old wildlife biologist from Albany, who witnessed the vote with his husband Tom, whom he married in Massachusetts. “We are very grateful. Just a lot of emotions and passion.”
Marchers at a gay-pride parade in Paris celebrated the passage today, the Associated Press reported, after hundreds of people gathered at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where a 1969 confrontation between police and activists helped give birth to the U.S. gay-rights movement.
“This is the place where the movement started and it’s a way to close the loop and celebrate the full equality of gay people in New York,” Alex Kelton, 26, told the AP.
In Albany, negotiations over the amendments had stalled the measure for almost two weeks and helped keep lawmakers in session beyond the scheduled end of June 20.
Religious organizations and not-for-profits with religious affiliations won’t be required to “provide services, accommodation, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of marriage,” the bill says. Any such refusal “shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits, or discriminate against” the organizations.
The entire act would be invalidated if a court strikes down any part of it, the bill says.
Cuomo met with gay-rights advocates, delivered speeches and held private conferences with legislators in a bid to build momentum for the measure in the face of vocal opposition from Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan and other traditional-marriage supporters.
Change of Heart
A change of heart last week from three Democrats and two Republicans who helped defeat a similar bill in 2009 seemed to signal a vote was imminent. Cuomo had said that he wouldn’t push for a vote unless he was confident it would pass.
The National Organization of Marriage, which has lobbied against the measure, said it would double a prior pledge to at least $2 million to vote out of office in 2012 the Republicans who helped pass it.
“The Republican Party has torn up its contract with the voters who trusted them in order to facilitate Andrew Cuomo’s bid to be president,” Brian Brown, president of the Washington- based non-profit, said yesterday in a statement. “Selling out your principles to get elected is wrong. Selling out your principles to get the other guy elected is just plain dumb.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has compared the fight for gay-marriage rights to the civil-rights battles of the 1960s, visited Albany twice in the past six weeks to help Cuomo in his lobbying efforts. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
“It really is a historic triumph for equality and freedom,” Bloomberg said after the vote. “This really is a great day for New York and America.”
Advocacy groups from both sides of the debate swarmed the Capitol in recent weeks, filling the halls outside the Senate chamber. Adversaries stood beside one another, holding signs that read “Defend Biblical Marriage” and “‘I Do’ Support Marriage Equality” as they jockeyed to make their chants and songs the loudest.
The cause also attracted a cadre of celebrities. “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon, New York Rangers hockey player Sean Avery and Food Network chef Mario Batali walked the Capitol halls to support the measure. Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree spoke out against it.
‘Vote of Conscience’
Opponents of the measure failed to win over Senator Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie, who voted in favor of the single-sex marriage bill after his opposition helped kill a similar measure in 2009.
“While I understand that my vote will disappoint many, I also know my vote is a vote of conscience,” Saland, 67, told the AP. “I am doing the right thing to support marriage equality.”
The measure also won support on Wall Street. Billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, joined hedge-fund managersCliff Asness and Dan Loeb in providing funding for Cuomo’s campaign to build Republican backing for the same-sex marriage bill, the New York Times reported today.
“To remain a global economic leader, New York must compete for intellectual capital, and marriage equality is one more way to attract the best and the brightest, regardless of sexual orientation,” John Mack, chairman of Morgan Stanley (MS), wrote in an op-ed earlier this month.
A law approving same-sex nuptials would provide $142 million in economic benefit to New York City and $184 million to the state during the three years following its enactment, a 2007 report from the New York City comptroller’s office found. The state would collect about $8 million more in taxes and fees, and save more than $100 million in health-care outlays. The city would collect about $7 million in taxes and fees and experience no impact on outlays, the report estimated.
“Now, more gay couples -- and their family and friends -- will have an opportunity to celebrate their special day here,” said George Ferlitta, CEO of NYC & Co., the city’s official tourism-marketing agency, according to the AP.
Many of the largest private employers based in New York already offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Companies that offer spousal and family benefits may incur higher costs for health insurance, according to the comptroller’s report. It would cost about $11 million more annually for companies located in New York City and $21 million for those elsewhere.
To contact the reporter on this story: Esmé E. Deprez in Albany at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com