On the eve of its annual gay pride parade, and after a week of delay and debate, New York’s legislature has passed a marriage equality bill. Nearly two years after a similar bill failed overwhelmingly in the State’s Senate, four Republicans joined twenty-nine Democrats in securing the bill’s passage. New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is expected to sign the measure into law shortly.
New York will join Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in offering same-sex couples equal status under the law. As public pressure for a vote on the measure increased in recent weeks, lawmakers convened to discuss language that would explicitly exempt religious institutions from any obligation to perform same-sex marriages. The legal relevance of that language is unclear, but the legal status of gay couples in New York is not—they now enjoy the same rights as any other couple.
Questions regarding President Obama’s approach to advancing an equality agenda will remain salient, but tonight advocates celebrate a notable victory. New York becomes the largest state to entrench marriage equality, and the legislature’s reversal may create momentum for proponents nationwide. The result will likely be attributed to shifting public opinion. A Quinnipiac poll cited by the New York Times suggested that support for gay marriage amongst New Yorkers rose from 37% to 58% in the two years separating the failed vote from the successful one.
Refusal to recognize same-sex couples stigmatizes gay marriage and so condones treating gay couples with diminished respect. Tonight, in theatrical fashion, New York forcefully disavowed that message. Whether motivated by the views of constituents or matters of conscience, Albany’s repudiation certainly creates hope.