On the night of June 24, the New State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo gave New Yorkers a fitting and historic LGBT Pride present as the State Senate, at last, passed the Governor’s Marriage Equality Act, submitted to the Legislature on June 14, passed by the State Assembly on June 15, and signed into law by Cuomo following the Senate vote. The Senate vote was 33 to 29 and four Republicans were among those who cast votes in favor of the measure. The Assembly vote was 80 to 63. The bill becomes law in 30 days.
New York will become the sixth and largest state and seventh American jurisdiction to approve same-sex marriage, following Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Washington, the District of Columbia.
The bill, as introduced, already included exemptions for clergy and religious institutions that did not require them “to solemnize any marriage” that is contrary to their beliefs, and protected them from civil lawsuits. It remained stalled in the Senate, however, until openly gay Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell (69th A.D., Manhattan) introduced amendments stating that “nothing in this article shall limit or diminish the right … [of] a religious organization to limit employment or sales or rental of housing accommodations” that is against “the religious principles for which it is established or maintained,” and that clergy refusal to comply would not “result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits or discriminate against any such clergyman or minister.”
In an email with the heading “Winning Equality and Justice: Victory for Marriage: Love and fairness win the day!,” Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross D. Levi wrote, “We thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for putting his political capital and popularity firmly behind this issue from day one; Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver for being a steadfast champion in the Assembly; the sponsor of the bill in that chamber, Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell; and the supporters in the Assembly from both parties who voted for this measure over the last three years. We also thank Senate Minority Leader John Sampson and Senator Tom Duane for carrying this bill as the lead sponsor in that chamber; Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos for allowing democracy to happen by bringing the bill to the floor; and every member of the State Senate who voted for fairness.”
American Civil Liberties Union Foundation LGBT & AIDS Project Director James D. Esseks explained in an email, “For the marriage movement nationally, New York is a huge step forward that accelerates important trends. New York isn’t just the sixth marriage state, it more than doubles the number of people living amidst the freedom to marry (from 15.7 million without New York to 35 million with it). That by itself gives a transformative boost to our efforts to secure marriage fairness across the country. And New York’s new law also follows three new civil union bills that were signed into law just in 2011–in Illinois, Hawaii, and Delaware. And all of this legislative progress comes against a background of five national polls showing majority support for the freedom to marry for lesbian and gay couples.
“The current marriage and relationships landscape is strikingly different from what it was just ten years ago. In 2001, there were no states with marriage, one state (Vermont) with civil unions, and two (California and Hawaii) that had limited state-level domestic partner registries. Today, six states plus D.C. allow same-sex couples to marry, three more respect marriages of same-sex couples validly performed in other states, eight provide civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships, and three more have more limited domestic partnership systems. That’s 20 states plus D.C. that provide some significant state-level relationship protections, and those states are home to 130 million people.”
Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart called the victory “thrilling news” and wrote, “We congratulate our colleagues at Empire State Pride Agenda and our other sister organizations who formed New Yorkers United for Marriage and fought so hard for this victory, and all the activists and allies in New York who wrote letters and made phone calls. We thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership, and we are proud of the state legislators who voted for equality.”