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July 1, 2011

‘I do’: New York passes marriage

Albany--The New York senate on June 24 disproved the old adage that the third time is the charm, passing same-sex marriage legislation the fourth time the legislature’s lower house sent it there.

The state assembly has passed similar legislation three earlier times, only to have it fail in the senate. This time, however, it was backed up with a lobbying push that made last year’s support by then-Gov. David Paterson seem lukewarm.

Cuomo led months of meetings with lawmakers of both parties, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has given major financial support to many Republican members of the assembly and the senate, threatened to withhold future donations if lawmakers did not vote in favor of the legislation.

In the end, four Republicans voted in favor of the legislation late on Friday night: Stephen Saland, Mark Grisanti, Roy McDonald and James Alesi. The senate ended its 2011 session immediately after passing the bill.

Saland’s yes vote was surprising, but Grisanti’s was virtually a miracle, as he had pledged just a few weeks ago to vote against the measure. However, Cuomo’s negotiations included adding protections for non-profit organizations affiliated with religious denominations, to prevent them from being required to perform same-sex marriages in their facilities.

Grisanti, in casting his vote, told the state senate that, despite being a devout Catholic and believing that marriage is between one man and one woman, as an attorney, he cannot find any legal justification for barring same-sex couples from enjoying the same rights and responsibilities he shares with his wife.

The final vote count was 33-29, and Cuomo signed it into law just before midnight. It will go into effect 30 days after his signature, which will be Sunday, July 24.

While the governor was being handed the bill for his signature, anti-gay groups were promising hellfire, damnation, the destruction of civilization and every possible attempt to overturn the law, which in New York will be a far more difficult prospect than it was in California.

New York does not currently allow petition-inspired initiatives and referenda, unlike many states, so Maggie Gallagher and her National Organization for Marriage cannot fund a petition drive to put the measure on the ballot for a “people’s veto,” as was done in Maine two years ago. An initiative and referendum amendment was passed by the New York Senate on June 7, but did not go anywhere in the New York Assembly.

There is a non-severability clause in the marriage law which means that if any part of it is found unconstitutional, the entire bill will be voided. That was designed to deter suits against religious organizations, and the clause might not be enforceable, according to civil rights attorney Yetta Kurland, who spoke to David Badash of the New Civil Rights Movement blog.

Kurland pointed out that the best defense of the New York marriage law will be to push forward in other states, like Maryland, Maine, Oregon and Connecticut, where pro-marriage efforts stand a decent chance of success, leaving anti-marriage efforts off-balance and unclear on which battlefield to step into next.

The most immediate effect of the passage of the marriage law, however, was in jubilant crowds in front of the Stonewall Inn as the vote was announced. The euphoria was still being felt two days later in New York City, when the Pride parade and festival were packed with supporters, enough that it made a feature story on Monday’s episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

“New York has finally torn down the barrier that has prevented same-sex couples from exercising the freedom to marry and from receiving the fundamental protections that so many couples and families take for granted,” Cuomo said as he signed the bill. “With the world watching, the legislature, by a bipartisan vote, has said that all New Yorkers are equal under the law. With this vote, marriage equality will become a reality in our state, delivering long overdue fairness and legal security to thousands of New Yorkers.”

New York is now the sixth state with full same-sex marriage, plus the District of Columbia. The others are Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. A seventh state, California, had full marriage for five months in 2008, before voters passed a ban amendment.

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