NEW YORK (AFP) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a bill legalizing gay marriage, delivering a powerful victory for gay rights advocates in one of the most populous and influential states of the union.
Gay rights activists chanted and danced in the streets of New York city early Saturday as news spread that the Republican-controlled state senate had narrowly approved the “Marriage Equality Act.”
Cuomo signed the measure, which will take effect in 30 days, into law just before midnight Friday (0400 GMT).
Cheers erupted in the senate galleries in the state capital Albany when the legislators voted 33-29 to approve the measure after weeks of intense wrangling. The 29 Democratic senators were joined by four Republicans, one more than the minimum needed to get the bill approved.
Crowds of people gathered to hug, dance and cheer outside the Stonewall Inn, in Manhattan’s West Village, where riots broke out on June 28, 1969 after police raided the bar frequented by gay customers. The incident is seen as the birth of the modern gay rights movement.
Cuomo, who had lobbied hard for the measure, beamed after it was approved.
“Democracy works when the people speak. And the people spoke in volumes over these past few months. And this legislature responded this week to their calls,” Cuomo said at a press conference soon after the vote.
“What we accomplished this evening with marriage equality really in some ways brings it all home. Because this state, when it is at its finest, is a beacon for social justice,” he said.
The Democratic-majority lower house, the state assembly, approved a similar gay marriage bill on June 14, and later ratified the changes made by the senate.
The measure’s approval coincides with the beginning of the annual Gay Pride weekend, which culminates with a giant parade on Sunday.
In Albany activists supporting and opposing the measure chanted, sang and waved placards, packing the senate galleries and demonstrated inside and outside the building.
Marc Grisanti, one of the Republican senators who voted for the measure in Albany, agonized over his vote.
“I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage,” Grisanti said as he was about to vote.
“I cannot deny a person, a human being… the same rights I have with my wife.”
The Republican-dominated senate had rejected a similar bill in December 2009, and its approval on Friday was uncertain leading up to the vote.
New York state lawmakers, who should have recessed late Monday, had been in drawn-out negotiations in an extraordinary session to put the final touches on the bill’s language designed to address legal protections for religious organizations.
New York is the third most populous US state after California and Texas, and will become the sixth state to approve gay marriage after Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont.
Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon and New Jersey, as well as the US capital Washington, offer civil unions to same-sex couples, but not marriage rights.
A March poll found that a 53 percent majority of Americans are in favor of allowing gay marriage.
The New York Civil Liberties Union applauded the approval.
“This historic, bipartisan vote is a victory for families and a victory for human rights. Now, all loving couples in our state can enjoy the dignity, respect and legal rights that marriage provides,” said the group’s executive director Donna Lieberman.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a group representing gay members of the Republican Party, congratulated the party members that voted in favor of the bill.
“Republicans in the New York state senate stood up for true conservative values: individual liberty, personal freedom and equal rights for all, and we thank them for voting on the right side of history,” said Gregory Angelo, the head of the group’s New York state chapter.
However a statement from New York’s Catholic bishops was scathing.
The approval of a bill “to alter radically and forever humanity?s historic understanding of marriage leaves us deeply disappointed and troubled,” read a statement by the New York state Catholic Conference.
“We strongly uphold the Catholic Church?s clear teaching that we always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love. But we just as strongly affirm that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman in a lifelong, loving union,” the bishops said.