New York has legalized same sex marriage, making it the sixth U.S state to do so. Gay rights advocates call the vote a major victory in their quest for equality.
The New York State Senate approved the legislation Friday night by a vote of 33 to 29, as four Republican lawmakers crossed party lines and voted in favor of the bill. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had pushed for the bill, quickly signed the legislation into law meaning, pending court challenges, same sex couples can begin legally marrying in New York in 30 days.
"New York made a powerful statement, not just for the people of New York, but [also for] the people all across this nation. We reached a new level of social justice this evening," Cuomo said.
New York could become a destination for same sex couples wanting to legally marry because the state has no residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license.
Gay rights advocates filled the statehouse in Albany Friday night to celebrate the historic legislation, with many couples saying they were already planning their weddings. New York, with a population of almost 20 million people, is by far the largest U.S. state to approve same-sex marriage and a major gay pride parade is scheduled for New York City on Sunday.
In Manhattan, gay rights advocates gathered at bars and restaurants to watch the vote and celebrate its passage. Jason Carson said now gay couples will have the same choices and protections afforded straight couples.
"Now, anybody who wants to get married in the state can," said Carson. "It was always a civil rights issue and now the choice is theirs."
This was not the first time gay marriage had come up for a vote in New York. Last year the measure passed the Assembly, but failed to move through the Senate. This year, Republicans in both chambers pushed for more legal protections for religious groups that object to gay marriage or do not wish to perform the ceremony.
Opponents of the measure had also spent the last week in Albany trying to persuade lawmakers to abandon the bill. New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan derided the measure saying it sought to redefine the definition of marriage, which he says is solely the union between a man and woman.
One lawmaker who voted against the measure, Senator Ruben Diaz, told the Senate he could not change his stance on what he believes is the definition of a marital union.
"God, not man, has set the definition of marriage a long time ago," said Diaz.
Advocates say the new law is also historic because more conservative Republican lawmakers were able to move across party lines and strike an agreement with Democrats on a major piece of legislation.