New York’s lesbian and gay community has reason to celebrate this summer. On the evening of Friday, June 24, 2011 the New York State Senate approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriages by a vote of 33 to 29. That same evening, shortly before midnight, New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed the bill into law making New York the sixth, and largest, state in the country to allow same-sex couples to marry.
For gay rights activists, the decision marks a landmark victory in the effort to secure equal rights for the LGBT community. Currently, only five states—Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont—and the District of Columbia, allow same-sex couples to marry. New York’s decision is a significant win for gay and lesbian Americans wishing to have the same legal protections that are afforded to heterosexual married couples. The civil rights win comes two years after a similar measure was defeated in the state’s legislature, then controlled by Democrats.
The news was met instantly with joy and approval by the LGBT community of New York. On the eve of Gay Pride celebrations in New York City, cheering crowds took to the streets of Greenwich Village to celebrate the news. Near the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street, where in 1969 the Gay Rights Movement began, crowds of ebullient men and women gathered to celebrate and mark the historical decision.
Before the final vote, Senator Thomas Duane, Democrat and openly gay member of the New York Senate, gave an impassioned speech as to why he and his parter should be allowed to marry and share the same rights and privileges other straight, married colleagues enjoy. “We are leaders and we join other proud states that recognize our families,” Mr. Duane said.
Senator Stephen Saland, Republican, who voted against a similar bill in 2009, and helped kill the measure that dealt a blow to the gay rights movement decided to vote for the measure this time around. Mr. Saland said that his traditional family upbringing led him to reconsider and embrace legalizing gay marriage. In a story reported by the New York Times, Mr. Saland is quoted as saying “While I understand that my vote will disappoint many, I also know my vote is a vote of conscience. I am doing the right thing in voting to support marriage equality,” he said before casting his vote.
Another key and necessary vote came from Senator Mark Grisanti, a Republican and Roman Catholic from Buffalo. Earlier in the week, Mr. Grisanti admitted to being undecided on how he would vote. Later, he concluded that he could not deny anyone what he regards as a basic right. "I apologize to those I offend,” said Grisanti to the Associated Press. "But I believe you can be wiser today than yesterday. I believe this state needs to provide equal rights and protections for all its residents.”
The only Democrat to vote against the measure was Senator Ruben Diaz, a minister and conservative from the Bronx. When given a few minutes to state his case against the bill, Mr. Diaz stated that, “God, not Albany, settled the issue of marriage a long time ago.” Many gay and lesbian couples from around the country welcome and celebrated the news from New York.