Friday, June 24, 2011

UPDATED: New York Marriage Equality Bill Signed into Law

Update (12:25am): Minutes before midnight, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Marriage Equality Act into law; gay couples can now marry legally in New York in exactly 30 days.

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The New York Senate has passed the Marriage Equality Act, which will allow gay couples to marry under state law, 33 to 29. The bill had already been passed by the New York Assembly, so it now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk.

New York will join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Washington, DC, in allowing gay couples to marry equally. With New York set to allow gay marriage, the number of gay people living in an equal marriage state will instantly double.

The vote ends an unpredictable week in Albany, as the Assembly extended its session by a full week in order to take up the marriage bill and other matters. It was speculated that there were 31 votes sealed for marriage, with one more vote needed to pass the bill. A similar bill had been rejected by the State Senate last year.

“What this bill will do is say that we’re family in a way that no other word can – and that word is family,” said Sen. Tom Duane before the vote.

Before the vote on the bill, an amendment to grant additional protections to religious institutions who do not wish to recognize gay marriages passed the senate 36 to 26; the crowd gathered in the gallery erupted in applause.

Sen. Stephen Saland (R) rose to introduce the amendment, thanking Cuomo for being “sensitive” to the balance between “religious freedom” and the “importance of equality.” He then prefaced his vote on the marriage bill.

“I have struggled over this issue, it has been an extremely difficult issue to deal with. Coming from a rather traditional background… my quandary was, all of the folks who wrote me, the thousands and thousands of letters and emails and thousands of telephone calls, they all asked me to do the right thing,” said Saland.

“My decision is going to disappoint a significant number of people, but I can say my intellectual and emotional journey has ended here today, and I have to define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality, and that equality includes within the definition of marriage. I fear that to do otherwise would fly in the face of my upbringing.”

Sen. Mark Grisanti (R), also an undecided vote, spoke on the bill just before the vote, revealing that he would vote in favor, to more applause.

“I have studied this issue… I have struggled with it. Please know that in the past, what I was telling you and what I believed at the time, was the truth,” He said. “I would not respect myself if I didn’t do the research, have an open mind, and make an informed decision based on the information before me. I cannot legally come up with an argument against gay marriage. I cannot deny a person the same rights that I have with my wife.”

Saland and Grisanti will go down in history as two men who supported equality when it mattered the most, when his was the vote that was needed to bring marriage equality past the finish line. Tonight’s vote is extremely encouraging to everyone who has worked hard for equality in the Empire State and beyond, and I am so excited that New Yorkers will be allowing gay couples to be treated equally under state law.

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