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New York Win Celebrated Far and Wide

New York Win Celebrated Far and Wide

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Comments of celebration, and some inevitable criticism, began to flow late Friday night and into the Pride weekend worldwide as New York, the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, became the sixth and most populous state, in addition to Washington, D.C., to give same-sex couples the right to civil marriages through a historic vote in the Republican-led state Senate.

"New York has finally torn down the barrier that has prevented same-sex couples from exercising the freedom to marry and from receiving the fundamental protections that so many couples and families take for granted," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "With the world watching, the legislature, by a bipartisan vote, has said that all New Yorkers are equal under the law. With this vote, marriage equality will become a reality in our state, delivering long overdue fairness and legal security to thousands of New Yorkers."

Cuomo signed the bill into law shortly before midnight. The law will take effect on July 24 with religious exemption language that helped secure the votes of two more Republicans, Stephen Saland, and Mark Gristanti, during the Senate floor debate. In all, four Republicans supported the bill, which passed the senate by a vote of 33 to 29 after winning approval in the Democratic-controlled assembly for the fourth time since 2007.

Although the state Senate Republican conference made history with the vote, it issued no official statement. Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced Friday that an up-or-down vote would be held after many hours of deliberation among his 32 members.

"As I have said many times, this is a very difficult issue and it will be a vote of conscience for every member of the Senate," he said.

The Log Cabin Republicans, part of the bipartisan New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition of five LGBT advocacy organizations that worked with Cuomo to pass the bill, issued a statement that marked the historic occasion.

"This achievement marks the first time a Republican led chamber has enacted marriage equality, we look forward building on our successes in states across the country," said R. Clarke Cooper, the group's executive director. "Log Cabin will stand with the allies who stood with us today as part of a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party."

The five organizations in the coalition, which raised $2 million in recent months, more than half from Republicans and affiliated donors, brought an unprecedented level of coordination and resources for communications, fieldwork and lobbying in the state campaign. In addition to Log Cabin, other partners included the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, Marriage Equality New York, and the Empire State Pride Agenda.

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent and major contributor to state Senate Republicans, lobbied some members of the conference and contributed to the fund-raising. He also delivered a speech on marriage equality that positioned the issue as the latest in a series of freedom movements incubated in New York, including women's rights, workers' rights, the abolition movement, and minority civil rights.

"In recent weeks, I have had many conversations with our state senators," said Mayor Bloomberg in a statement. "I emphasized that not only is marriage equality consistent with bedrock American principles, but it is also consistent with bedrock Republican Party principles of liberty and freedom -- and the Republicans who stood up today for those principles will long be remembered for their courage, foresight, and wisdom. In fact, 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, I believe they will look back at this vote as one of their finest, proudest moments."

As Governor Cuomo noted in his remarks after the vote, the four Republicans provided their support at greater political risk than the Democratic senators, all of whom supported the bill except the avowedly antigay Ruben Diaz. Sr. The Conservative Party of New York State, which threatened not to offer its influential endorsement to any Republican lawmaker who supported the bill, issued a statement calling the vote a "disaster."

"We question how marriage will be defined in the future. Moreover, we question what will be the effect on society," said the Conservative Party. "Passage of this legislation, in our view, will cause irreversible damage to our economy, educational system and the family."

The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops, including Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who strongly opposed the bill, issued a statement before the vote on Friday that reiterated no kind of religious exemptions would make the bill acceptable.

"Marriage has always been, is now, and always will be the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong, life-giving union," said the statement. "Government does not have the authority to change this most basic of truths."

The vote in the Senate held special meaning for the chamber's first and only openly gay member, Thomas K. Duane of Manhattan, who has carried the bill for years. He spoke during the floor vote about coming out to his Catholic parents, the gay rights journey since the 1970s, and his relationship with his partner, Louis Webre.

"It is true that today holds enormous historical significance and it must be proudly celebrated," Duane said in a statement after the vote. "The paradoxical truth is that what already exists and will not change, but for true legal recognition, is the commitment and love that is already the reality in so many of New York's families."

Daniel O'Donnell, the gay Manhattan lawmaker who sponsored the bill in the Assembly, also spoke about the public and personal implications of the vote.

"This day is a momentous one, not only for the thousands of same-sex couples across our state who find themselves suddenly on the cusp of equality, now awaiting only one person's signature before being able to marry, but for all New Yorkers who have recognized and fought against legalized discrimination," he said. "I have been with my partner John for over 30 years, and, at long last, the state where we were both born, raised, and have lived our adult lives has agreed that all New Yorkers deserve marriage equality in the eyes of the law."

The vote made global headlines as cities including New York City, Berlin, and Paris prepared to celebrate Pride. It brought the state legislature in line with the stance of the statewide elected officials in New York, all of whom support marriage equality. U.S. senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of four senators calling on President Barack Obama to support marriage equality, issued a statement in which she pledged to continue the effort to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

"New York State has sent a powerful message to the rest of the nation," said Gillibrand. "The right to get married and start a family is a basic, human right that must be shared by all Americans. Every loving, committed couple in America deserves this right. And no politician should stand in the way of this fact."

President Obama, who also supports DOMA repeal, spoke to gay Democrats at a high-dollar fund-raiser in Manhattan Thursday night and said he believed gay couples are entitled to all the same rights as other couples. However, the president stopped short of endorsing full marriage equality, where he responded to hecklers and positioned marriage as an issue of state's rights. Obama said that the debate then still happening in New York represented "exactly what democracies are supposed to do."

A White House spokesman repeated that position in a statement to the Washington Blade after the vote.

"The president has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples," said Shin Inouye. "That's why he has called for repeal of the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' and determined that his administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the courts. The states should determine for themselves how best to uphold the rights of their own citizens. The process in New York worked just as it should."

Home of the nation's largest city and a population of nearly 20 million people, as many as Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Washington, D.C., combined, New York will double the number of Americans who live in a state or jurisdiction with a marriage equality law. The state, which has no initiative process to repeal the law -- unlike California, which passed Proposition 8 to override a court ruling for marriage equality -- is expected to inject new momentum into a marriage equality movement that stalled in legislatures in recent months. Federal courts cases are pending, and polls show that a slim majority of Americans now support marriage equality.

"We are beginning to see the dark walls of discrimination crumble," said Chad Griffin, cofounder and board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is sponsoring the federal lawsuit against Prop. 8. "The American Foundation for Equal Rights will continue its work in the federal courts and will not stop until all Americans have the same rights, including the freedom to marry, as guaranteed by our Constitution."

The victory in New York capped a year that also began with hope for passing marriage equality laws in Maryland and Rhode Island. The Maryland House voted to recommit the bill to committee in March after it passed the Senate, and in Rhode Island, lawmakers decided instead to introduce a civil unions bill, which passed the House but has languished in the Senate as the legislative session draws to a close.

Equality Maryland, the statewide advocacy group that moved the bill to a first-time vote and passage in the Senate, issued a statement in response to the New York victory.

"Equality Maryland looks toward the future of marriage equality as New York becomes the sixth state, along with the District of Columbia, to recognize gay and lesbian couples as full and equal citizens," said the statement. "It's time that Maryland joins the ranks of states who favor marriage equality for all loving and committed gay and lesbian couples."

New York also received congratulations from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which brought the lawsuit, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, that made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to recognize marriage equality, in 2004.

"As a major cultural and population center for our nation and the world, the state of New York today has sent a powerful message of liberty and equality for all that will no doubt resonate far beyond the state's borders," said Gary Buseck, the acting executive director. "This is a momentous day for the marriage equality movement."

New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, the first openly gay person to hold the position, made a statement after the vote Friday that looked toward the significance for future generations.

"And what it does for me is important, but what it does for gay children is indescribable," she said. "There are children who are watching this vote right now across the country in households where they are afraid to tell people that they believe that they are gay, and they just saw the legislature of the greatest state in the union say that they are equal and that they matter. That will keep children alive, it will give them hope, and it will tell them that it does get better and that they matter."

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