New York will become the sixth state to approve same-sex marriage (the District of Columbia also allows gay marriage). Because of the state's large population, the number of Americans living in states that allow gay marriage will more than double. With New York, 35 million Americans will live in states with gay marriage, one in nine Americans.
The New York Senate approved a new same-sex marriage bill tonight by a vote of 33 to 29. Even though nearly all Republicans voted against the bill, the Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill because of four Republicans who voted with the Democrats. Only two Republican Senators openly backed the bill until just before the vote when Sen. Stephen Saland (Rep.) said he would give the bill the 32nd vote needed for passage. Only one Democrat, Sen. Ruben Diaz, voted against the measure. Only two Republican Senators openly backed the bill prior to the vote.
Additional votes were gained only after a majority in the Senate reached agreement on religious protections in the bill. Shortly before the gay marriage bill vote, the religious exemptions were reportedly passed by a 36-26 vote. The bill passed by the State Assembly included protections for clergy and churches. It did not include explicit protections for faith-based nonprofits. In Illinois, for example, the recent civil unions law has meant that Catholic Social Services could no longer receive state funds for its foster care and adoption services. The nonprofit has a policy against placing children with same-sex couples.
Opponents of the Assembly bill also wanted exemptions for individuals and businesses who objected to gay marriage for religious reasons. These individuals could be in violation of local ordinances. They could also be forced to allow gay couples to use their facilities. For example, without exemptions, critics argued, a business that rents its facilities for weddings could not refuse a couple simply because they were a same-sex couple.
The bill also included language making it impossible for a judge to strike down only the religious exemptions. If the exemptions are ruled to be unconstitutional, the extension of marriage to same-sex couples would be struck down, too.
Even the broadest religious exemptions would not be enough for some opponents of same-sex marriage. Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg said "the principal objection to homosexual 'marriage' has nothing to do with religion."
"At its heart, marriage is neither a civil institution nor a religious institution. Instead, marriage is a natural institution—rooted in the order of nature itself," Sprigg said. "The core message of the opposition to homosexual 'marriage' is not just, 'Don't make us perform same-sex weddings in our church.' Instead, it is: 'Society needs children, and children need a mom and a dad.'"
The new bill still needs to be approved by the Assembly (because of the new religious exemptions) and then be signed by the governor. The Assembly is expected to approve the new language quickly. The signature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is all but certain. The governor has been an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage in New York. The measure will go into effect 30 days after he signs it.
The outcome of the bill has been in doubt for weeks. The State Assembly has passed same-sex marriage legislation four times in the past five years. The Senate has never approved it. In 2009, the Senate voted 38-24 against same-sex marriage. After the 2010 election, Republicans gained control but the Senate lost some key opponents to gay marriage. By the end of last week, a handful of senators from both parties announced they would be changing their positions, bringing the number of announced supporters to 31, one shy of the number needed for passage.
GOP Senators debated whether to allow the bill to be considered. Part of the delay was reportedly due to negotiations over more religious exemptions for groups such as adoption agencies. With more protections, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (Republican) decided to let the bill be considered.
Prior to the vote, the New York capitol was filled with protestors for both sides. One side singing hymns and spirituals chanting "God says no." The other side included a smaller group of Jewish and Christian leaders calling out "God is love."
Opponents of same-sex marriage delivered 63,000 petitions and held a press conference outside of the Republican conference room. In addition to featuring leaders like National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown, the press conference included New York Giants receiver David Tyree.
Tyree was the hero of the Giants Super Bowl win in 2007. Tyree told the New York Daily News he "probably would" give up the Super Bowl to stop same-sex marriage.
"Nothing means more to me than that my God would be honored," Tyree said. "Being the fact that I firmly believe that God created and ordained marriage between a man and a woman, I believe that that's something that should be fought for at all costs."