The Court Case
In June, 2011 the New York Senate voted and reached the unpredictable outcome of 33-29, legalizing gay marriage; previously, it passed the Assembly with a 80-63 majority. Governor Andrew Cuomo had worked hard to make the Marriage Equality Act a priority even in the midst of heated debates around the issue of budget cuts. He turned words into action by sending one of his top aides to work with local gay rights groups and sort out points of contention.
Two years prior, a same-sex marriage bill was introduced—by Cuomo, in his first year—but rejected despite a Democrat-ruled Senate; it then passed in a Republican majority Senate. The vote was preceded by a nine-hour debate. All but one Democrat (Rubén Díaz) voted in favor of the bill and Senator Mark Grisanti, was one of few Republicans who voted in favor of the bill, admitting that his prior anti-gay marriage stance was wrong. The Conservative Party feels betrayed by the four Republicans who voted in favor of the marriage bill, but the Governor and other advocates supported them.
Governor Cuomo signed for the law to take effect in 30 days, making New York the largest state to grant gay marriage; not to mention a state with a significant and powerful gay community. This made New York the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage but the bill makes no mention of clergy or religious organizations marrying gay couples, a point that most other states have clearly delineated.
New York is an important state for gay activists to have won over because of the movement’s history there. It all started with a “crowd outside New York City’s Stonewall Inn, where a police raid in 1969 sparked the modern gay rights movement.” An estimated 21,000 gay couples will marry within the first three years and twice as many are expected to come from out of state to do so. According to Jim Reda, he “feel[s] like a first-class citizen, a first-class New Yorker, for the first time in [his] life.” The sheer size of New York—about 19 million—will hopefully impact the gay rights movement in a major way.
Where to Go From Here
Activists are hoping that New York’s marriage rights victory will help convince others, including Obama who has been fickle regarding the matter, that this is the new direction of equality and civil rights. Now, more than 35% of Americans live in states that grant gay couples some level of marriage rights which is unquestionably an important step towards changing social norms and mentality, not just laws. Furthermore, New York came upon this decision by vote, not court order.
On a National Level
The National Organization for Marriage is disappointed with and set upon defeating the four Republicans that voted for the bill. Also, they do not believe that New York’s decision will resonate nationwide.
Gay marriage activists, on the other hand, remain quite optimistic about same-sex marriage becoming federal law. Most tend to think it will become national law either by a Supreme Court ruling demanding that all states recognize gay marriage, or congressional legislation. At the moment, these are long-term goals. Activists are currently most focused on repealing DOMA (1996) which denies federal recognition to married gay couples; Obama even ordered that his administration stop defending it in February of last year.
- Can gay couples marry in New York? Yes.