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In a dramatic late night vote, New York State became the sixth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriages. The state senate waited until around 10:30 p.m. on Friday night to hold the much anticipated vote. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a staunch supporter of the bill, signed the legislation into law just before midnight on June 24th.
The timing could not be any better as New York City hosts gay pride weekend following the signing. With the new legislation in New York, the number of gays and lesbians that can legally marry in the United States has doubled. In addition, New York State has no residency laws to marry and gay couples from across the nation will be flocking to the state to marry in late July when the law takes effect.
A religious exemption was also built into the bill to assuage some opponents. “Whoever opposes the rights of gays and lesbians to marry – whatever religious institution, whether it’s the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews, anyone else – they are not required to marry any couple they do not want to marry,” Elizabeth Cooper of Fordham University Law School explained.
Why this was so important to opponents is unclear to me. Can’t churches already decide who to marry? Catholics do not let non-Catholics marry in their church. But this sticking point delayed the vote while senators met in backrooms to negotiate the deal. Republican State Senator Stephen Saland was one of those that negotiated the deal and was also one of the last senators to support the bill. He reported that he agonized over the decision. “I have defined 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.”
Both sides of the debate expressed their feelings regarding the monumental vote. Many gay rights proponents believe that the vote will build momentum toward same-sex marriage across the country. Gov. Cuomo talked about the important vote while signing the bill. “We made a powerful statement,” Cuomo said. “This state is at its finest when it is a beacon of social justice.”