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After a long battle followed by days of protracted deal-making, the New York State Senate narrowly approved same-sex marriage legislation Friday night, with Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly signing the measure into law in a midnight ceremony.
The historic yet divisive measure passed by a narrow margin of 33 votes to 29.
The vote makes New York the sixth state – and the largest one to date – to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The law will go into effect on July 24.
Prior to the vote, a poll of the Senate's members showed the measure trailing by a single vote with two senators undecided. Supporters of the bill picked up the necessary additional votes when additional protections were added to the legislation to shield religious institutions and non-profit organizations from potential effects of the legislation.
In a series of emotional speeches on the Senate floor, lawmakers both for and against the measure spelled out the factors that led to their decision as they cast their votes.
"My intellectual and emotional journey has ended here," said Senator Stephen Saland, one of four Republicans who tipped the balance by voting in favor of the legislation. "I have to define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality, and that equality includes the definition of marriage, and I fear that to do otherwise would fly in the face of my upbringing. As I said, I understand that it will probably disappoint many. It was a struggle, it was an extraordinary deliberation."
"I cannot deny a person, a human being, a tax payer, a worker … the same rights that I have with my wife," said Republican Mark Grisanti, who, like Saland, was also undecided heading into the vote but ended up voting in the affirmative.
The final tally had four Republicans and all but one Democrat – Ruben Diaz of the Bronx – voting for the bill. Diaz delivered an impassioned speech against the measure, saying that it went against traditional family values.
When the result of the vote was announced, cheers broke out from the gallery in the Senate chamber.
In Manhattan's West Village, supporters applauded and shouted their support outside the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement.
“What it means to me is that other people see us as just as valid as straight couples,” said one woman who stood outside with her partner.
Cuomo, addressing the media following the vote, said that the key to the measure's success was the inclusion of religious protections.
"I am a pro marriage equality person; I am a pro religious protection person," the governor said. "One is not more important. They have to be equally balanced and you have to protect both. You have to write a law that protects both. And I believe that we did that."
Cuomo cited Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other New York City officials for their help in supporting the measure. The mayor, at his City Hall office, watched the vote live on NY1 News.
Other New York City politicians weighed in with their response to the vote.
"When I was a little girl, I dreamed I would one day get married. I never imagined that it would take tonight’s Senate action to make that dream come true," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. "New York State’s recognition of marriage equality for same sex couples is an extraordinary step towards full equality for LGBT people. Tonight’s sweet victory in Albany will be felt all across America."
"New York has always led the way for equal rights – from leading the suffrage movement, to Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable speech opposing slavery at Cooper Union," said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, "and we have done it again."
On the other side of the issue, Archbishop Timothy Dolan expressed concern about the effects of the legislation. In a statement, Dolan said he was worried that "some will even now attempt to enact government sanctions against churches and religious organizations" that preach a traditional view of marriage between a man and a woman.
Plans for the vote came to fruition after days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, when Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced late Friday afternoon that the legislation would be brought to the full Senate for a vote that night.
The framework for the religious protection amendment was reached Friday afternoon, leading the Assembly to pass the amendment Friday evening by a vote of 82 to 47.
"People felt there was a further need, so there are a couple of revisions which make it clearer than clear that it is not the point of this bill to require anyone to perform or solemnize marriages," said Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell of the amendment. "That's not what this is designed to do. This is merely about the state issuing of licenses, and that's what the bill does."
Cuomo made legalization of same-sex unions a priority when he took office at the start of the year, and the movement picked up momentum over the last few months as the governor was able to rally the support of both Democratic and Republican holdouts. The split narrowed to almost even in recent days, and the final Republican "yes" votes fell into place when the measure was amended to increase protections for religious and non-profit institutions that do not support same-sex marriage.
A similar same-sex marriage bill was defeated by the New York State Senate in 2009. Prior to Friday's vote, New York recognized same-sex marriages from other states, but would not itself issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, and today Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and the District of Columbia all allow same-sex unions. Rhode Island and Maryland are among those states that recognize same-sex marriages, but do not grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Twelve states, including New Jersey, offer civil unions that are not called marriages but grant many of the same rights and responsibilities as legal marriage in those states.