New York becomes sixth state with marriage equality

The Palladinos, new mothers to infant twins Leo and Rocco, held their wedding in Georgia in 2009. The experience inspired them to launch, an online LGBT wedding magazine. It has also made them acutely aware of the many rights that come with legal marriage — rights they still won’t have here in Georgia even after their next visit to New York.

“While it’s exciting to get a marriage certificate in New York, it’s also completely deflating that it’ll mean nothing back home in terms of rights,” Palladino said. “However, Maria and I have taken every measure available to us within the law to protect our relationship, assets, decision-making skills, and most importantly, our children.”

Late Friday night, June 24, New York became the sixth and most populous state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. After a tense several days past the scheduled end of the legislative session, in which it was unclear if Republican leaders in the state Senate would even allow a marriage bill to come up for a vote, the vote was taken at approximately 10:30 p.m. EDT.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who worked closely with marriage equality advocates and sent an early version of the marriage bill to both houses of the legislature on June 14, signed the bill shortly after the vote on June 24. The law will go into effect in 30 days, on July 24.

Down to the wire

Cuomo’s signature capped a tense day of waiting for gay marriage supporters in New York and around the nation. The Assembly, which passed its version of the bill on June 15, voted again June 24 to approve several amendments agreed to by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), and Cuomo after they met earlier in the week. The amendments passed the Assembly 82 to 47.

The delay in the Senate vote, which had both marriage equality advocates and opponents on pins and needles all week, was in part because of the desire of some senators to insert additional religious exemptions — but several other contentious issues also occupied legislators in the last days of the session, including rent control and property taxes.

The original bill sent by Governor Cuomo to the legislature — and passed by the Assembly — said that “religious corporations” and “benevolent organizations” “shall not be required to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

The amendments agreed upon June 24 added the same exemptions for not-for-profit corporations that are “operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious corporation,” as well as employees who are “managed, directed, or supervised by” any of the above types of organizations.

The final bill contained one other new component: an “inseverability clause” stating that if any part of the marriage bill is found to be invalid by a court of law, the entire bill will be deemed invalid.

Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie), speaking on the floor of the Senate before the vote, explained that the purpose of that amendment was to make sure that religious organizations would not be liable under anti-discrimination laws, and that any conflicts would be resolved in favor of the religious exemptions.

‘Vote of conscience’

Saland’s declaration that he would vote yes was the first public confirmation that the bill had enough votes for passage. He told the Senate, “I have to define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality. And that equality includes within the definition of marriage. . . . My vote is a vote of conscience.”

In the end, Saland was one of four Republicans voting yes. Republican senators James Alesi (R-Monroe) and Roy J. McDonald (R-Saratoga) also voted in favor of the bill, as promised the week before.

One surprise Republican vote was that of Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), who said that although he is a practicing Catholic, “I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage.”

Three Democratic state senators who had voted “no” on a marriage bill in 2009 — Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Queens), Shirley Huntley (D-Queens), and Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) — also voted “yes.”

One Democratic senator, Rubén Díaz (D-Bronx) voted against the bill.

New York is now the most populous state with marriage equality. It joins five other states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — and the District of Columbia, in allowing same-sex couples to marry.

It is the third state (and the fourth jurisdiction including the District of Columbia) to enact marriage equality purely through the legislature, with no state Supreme Court ruling requiring the legislature to enact such a law.


Top photo: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the state’s gay marriage bill into law late on June 24, shortly after it passed the New York State Senate by only four votes. (Photo courtesy NY Governor’s Office)