Friday, June 24, 2011

New York Becomes the Sixth State to Legalize Gay Marriage

ALBANY, N.Y. – DEVELOPING: New York has become the sixth state to legalize same sex marriage after a vote Friday night ruled in favor of the measure. Once Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs it into law gay weddings could begin 30 days after.

Leading up to this vote a veteran Republican senator had told The Associated Press he would vote yes on gay marriage, which apparently gave the measure the support it needed to become a law.

Sen. Stephen Saland says he has long been undecided. He voted against a similar bill in 2009, helping kill the measure and dealing a blow to the national gay rights movement.

Before he announced his intention, 31 senators were in favor, one short of a majority. Since they all still voted that way, and after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs it into law, New York will officially become the sixth state, and by far the largest, where gay marriage is legal. Gay marriages can begin 30 days after the date that Cuomo signs it.

Republicans in the New York Senate agreed Friday to allow a full vote on legalizing gay marriage, setting the stage for a possible breakthrough victory for the gay-rights movement in the state where it got its start.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos had said that the bill would go to the floor and be brought up for an "up or down vote." It would be a "vote of conscience for every member of this Senate," Skelos said.

The heavily Democratic Assembly has already approved one version of the measure and was expected to easily pass the new version that contains more protections for religious groups that oppose gay marriage and feared discrimination lawsuits.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who campaigned on the issue last year, has promised to sign it.

Though New York is a relative latecomer in allowing gay marriage, it is considered an important prize for advocates, given the state's size and New York City's international stature and its role as the birthplace of the gay-rights movement, which is said to have started with the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969.

The effects of the law could be felt well beyond New York: Unlike Massachusetts, which pioneered gay marriage in 2004, New York has no residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license, meaning the state could become a magnet for gay couples across the country who want to have a wedding in Central Park, the Hamptons, the romantic Hudson Valley or that honeymoon hot spot of yore, Niagara Falls.

Gay-rights advocates are hoping the vote will galvanize the movement around the country and help it regain momentum after an almost identical bill was defeated here in 2009 and similar measures failed in 2010 in New Jersey and this year in Maryland and Rhode Island.

The sticking point over the past few days: Republican demands for stronger legal protections for religious groups that fear they will be hit with discrimination lawsuits if they refuse to allow their facilities to be used for gay weddings.

Now, all 32 Republicans have approved stronger religious protections.

New York, the nation's third most populous state, would join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C., in allowing same-sex couples to wed.

For five months in 2008, gay marriage was legal in California, the biggest state in population, and 18,000 same-sex couples rushed to tie the knot there before voters overturned the state Supreme Court ruling that allowed the practice. The constitutionality of California's ban is now before a federal appeals court.

While court challenges in New York are all but certain, the state -- unlike California -- makes it difficult for the voters to repeal laws at the ballot box. Changing the law would require a constitutional convention, a long, drawn-out process.

Movement on the bill comes after more than a week of stop-and-start negotiations, rumors, closed-door meetings and frustration on the part of advocates.

Online discussions took on a nasty turn with insults and vulgarities peppering the screens of opponents and supporters alike and security was beefed up in the capitol to give senators easier passage to and from their conference room.

(Newsfeed, Associated Press)


Anonymous said...

"Beyond New York"

ALBANY — After a string of defeats in recent years from California to Maine, the movement to legalize same-sex marriage is hoping its unexpected victory in New York will revive efforts to legalize gay weddings around the nation.

But the movement’s success here could prove difficult to replicate. Twenty-nine states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, while 12 others have laws against it. And many of those states where support for same-sex marriage is high have already acted on the issue.

Officials at several gay-rights organizations said they would seek to move quickly in Maryland, where legislation to legalize same-sex marriage was shelved in February by Democratic leaders concerned that it lacked the support to pass.

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Advocates also said they hoped to resuscitate a marriage bill that died in the Rhode Island legislature this year.

Gay-rights groups are likely to seek ballot initiatives next year to overturn bans on same-sex marriage in Maine, where the Legislature approved a same-sex marriage law in 2009 that voters almost immediately turned back, and in Oregon.

Advocates hope, in the longer term, to win the legalization of same-sex marriage in Delaware and New Jersey, two states where Democrats control the legislatures, as well as in Pennsylvania.

“The fundamental issue here is American public opinion,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights organization. “The outcome in New York will be tremendously impactful in shaping the rest of the debate.”

Anonymous said...

Symbolic importance

The vote on Friday in New York, home of the nation’s economic and cultural capital, carries enormous symbolic importance for the same-sex-marriage movement, particularly after its defeat, with Proposition 8, three years ago in California.

New York is now the sixth and largest state in the country where gay couples will be able to wed legally; when the state’s law goes into effect in late July, twice as many Americans will live in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is permitted.

But beyond symbolism, gay-rights advocates said that New York had provided them with a new political model.

“They’ve shown a way to actually get a bill through a Legislature,” said Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Democratic state senator in Maryland and sponsor of the marriage bill that was shelved. “And I think we’re going to use some of the same lessons, the same tactics, in Maryland over the next six months.”

Mr. Madaleno, in a telephone interview on Saturday, said Maryland gay-rights advocates had failed to mount the kind of vigorous, multimillion-dollar grass-roots campaign that their allies in New York ran this spring. Nor had they pressed the state’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, to deploy his own political capital and muscle on their behalf, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did in New York.

“We had not done as good a job beating the bushes in districts as they did in New York,” Mr. Madaleno said. “Our hope is that not only will our legislature take a cue from our colleagues in Albany, but that our governor might as well.”

Perhaps the most striking shift in Albany was the role played by Republican lawmakers in the State Senate. Republican senators voted unanimously against same-sex marriage two years ago, when they were in the minority; this year, with a majority in the chamber, they not only allowed the marriage bill to come to the floor, but also provided the final votes necessary to approve it. The decision by 4 Republicans to join 29 Democrats to push the measure through the 62-seat Senate marked the first time in the nation that a legislative body controlled by Republicans approved either same-sex marriages or civil unions, advocates said.

That shift was precipitated by the emergence of a growing constituency of pro-gay-marriage operatives and donors in the Republican Party, whose direction on social issues is still largely set by its culturally conservative base.

“There is an important change going on among Republicans and conservatives,” said Kenneth B. Mehlman, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Mehlman, who acknowledged his own homosexuality after his tenure at the national committee had ended, was among a group of Republicans who helped raise money from prominent Republican donors to support the same-sex marriage effort in Albany. Those donors underwrote much of the cost of the same-sex marriage advocates’ advertising and lobbying campaigns.

Among increasing numbers of conservatives and Republicans, he said, there is the conviction “that freedom to marry is consistent with conservative values.”

Anonymous said...

Shifting public opinion

Same-sex marriage is currently allowed in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Maryland, New York and Rhode Island recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Some polls have suggested that public opinion, nationally, is shifting in favor of same-sex marriage. The Gallup Poll found in May that 53 percent of Americans believed that the law should recognize such unions. It was the first time that Gallup found a majority of Americans supporting same-sex marriage; the support was strongest among those between ages 18 and 34, and significantly weaker among those 55 and older.

Gay-rights advocates said they believed their victory in New York would have a powerful ripple effect on the intensifying legal and political debate over the rights of gays and lesbians in society. “Judges are not immune to politics,” Bill Smith, the deputy executive director of the Gill Action Fund, a national gay-rights advocacy organization, said. “They watch what’s going on.”

“When they see a pitched battle and progress like we’ve seen in New York,” he added, “it matters. Washington is always the slowest to move, but it matters there, too.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage said they were confident that public opinion was behind them and that the circumstances in New York were unique and would not be duplicated.

No state referendum or initiative to outlaw same-sex marriage has been defeated at the ballot box. A proposal to ban same-sex marriage will go before Minnesota voters next year, and North Carolina lawmakers are seeking to put a similar amendment on their state’s ballot, putting gay-rights groups on the defensive as they look for momentum elsewhere in the country.

And at the federal level, while advocates are pressing in court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the United States government from recognizing same-sex marriage, there is little prospect of repeal by Congress should they fail.

Brian S. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, questioned the effect of the New York vote.

“The fact is,” he said, “we’ve won every single vote of the people on the marriage issue.”

This story, For gay marriage movement, momentum but challenges, originally appeared in The New York Times.