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."
Negotiations over the amendments had stalled the measure for nearly 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. 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."