At the event, he listed his accomplishments on gay rights and said, “I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country.”
The vote caps a mixed year for gay marriage in state legislatures. New York was the only state to approve same-sex marriages. Three states — Delaware, Hawaii and Illinois — voted to allow gay couples to enter into civil unions, which afford many of the same benefits as marriage. Although gay groups consider civil unions a positive step, they say it falls short of the true legal and symbolic equality that the term “marriage” carries with it.
In Minnesota, lawmakers decided to place a measure on the 2012 ballot asking voters to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Voters have supported such language in all 31 states that have put that question on the ballot. However, with public opinion shifting, according to several recent polls, and with Minnesota’s liberal tilt, advocates hope it will be their first opportunity to defeat such a ballot initiative.
A similar initiative passed in California in 2008. However, in a major victory for the pro-gay-marriage movement, a federal judge last year overturned that law and called into question the constitutionality of such ballot measures. The issue is widely expected to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A Washington Post poll in March showed that a slim majority of Americans support gay marriage, a dramatic rise from just five years ago.
In New York, a series of actors, singers, professional athletes and politicians, including New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) and former president Bill Clinton had urged the legislature to pass the bill.
More than 50,000 viewers tuned in to watch the Senate debate late Friday, which was streamed live online. Because the bill appeared to be a single vote short of passage in the Republican-led chamber earlier in the day, speculation was rampant about the bill’s chances until the last minute.
As the discussion opened up, a formerly undecided Republican — Sen. Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie — stood first to announce that after an “intellectual and emotional journey” he had decided to back the legislation, ensuring the bill’s passage. He was joined a short while later by GOP Sen. Mark Grisanti. And it was a Democrat, Sen. Ruben Diaz Jr., who spoke most passionately against same-sex marriage. Diaz noted that the same bill failed two years ago when both chambers were controlled by Democrats.
“Listen very carefully and know the following: The New York gay community and their supporters are not only getting their marriage bill approved, but most importantly they are making the Republican Party do what the democrats failed to do when they were in the majority,” said Diaz, the lone Democratic senator who voted no.
Foes of same-sex marriage — including several religious groups and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan — had hoped for an outcome similar to the one in Maryland
, where lawmakers decided not to bring the measure up for a vote after a Democratic legislator who was lobbied by African American churches announced at the 11th hour that she would not back the bill.
New York and Maryland highlight recent fissures that have emerged in the debate over gay marriage. As more and more Republicans warm up to the idea, it has been Democrats — most visibly, those who hail from black and Latino Christian communities — who have stood in the way.