[Senator Thomas Duane, who is openly gay, left, shares a moment with Governor Andrew Cuomo when the Senate passes the same sex marriage bill on Friday, June 24, 2011, at The Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Standing at right is Senator Duane's partner, Louis Webre. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)]
Published in today's Times Union:
"ALBANY -- The state Senate approved same-sex marriage on Friday night as the cheers of a crowd of advocates echoed up and down The Capitol's ornate western staircase.
The final vote was 33-29.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill just before midnight; it goes into effect in 30 days.
New York's action doubles the total U.S. population living in states where same-sex marriage is legal -- joining Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, and the District of Columbia.
The chamber was proceeding with a preliminary vote on chapter amendments to the bill -- strengthening language offering protection to churches and religious groups -- when Senator Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, announced he would vote "Yes" on the measure, providing the 32nd vote required for passage.
Minutes later, Buffalo-area Republican Mark Grisanti provided a fourth Republican vote. "I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage," he said.
Two other Republican senators, Roy McDonald of Saratoga and Jim Alesi of Monroe County, last week became the first GOP members to support the bill. They made their decisions after concerted lobbying by advocates and foes.
Debate began late in the evening. After an extended and technical description of the amendments, Saland thanked the governor and said with characteristic dryness that he would vote for the measure.
"My intellectual and emotional journey has ended here today," he said. "I have to define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality, and that equality includes within the definition of marriage. To do otherwise would fly in the face of my upbringing."
Saland refused to yield for questions to Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., the sole Democratic opponent to same-sex marriage. The amendments passed the Senate 36-26.
When the main bill came up for debate, Diaz castigated Republicans for allowing it to come to the floor. He charged the GOP had become "a tool of the Democratic governor."
"G*d settled the issue of marriage a long time ago," Diaz said.
Senator Tom Duane, the openly gay Democrat who has carried the legislation in the chamber for years, spoke emotionally about coming out to his Catholic parents.
"There are only heroes in this chamber tonight," he said.
There was a minor point of drama: debate on the measure was extremely limited, with only two Democrats allowed to speak. Diaz was stifled as he tried to speak against the bill, and other Democrats -- including a vocal Senator Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn -- complained audibly that they weren't allowed to speak.
Aides to Cuomo and Skelos stood with Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy, as he coaxed each into their seats. "It's a shame," said Diaz.
Following the vote, a great cheer rose from the Senate galleries and out to the western staircase, where supporters and opponents had been gathered all day. Duane waved to supporters in the balcony who erupted into cheers, chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
Senator David Valesky, a Syracuse Democrat, was in tears nearby, tapping him on the shoulder. Alesi shook Duane's hand, as the Democrat mustered a simple, "Thank you." Duane's longtime partner, Louis Webre, embraced him.
On the south landing of the western staircase near the Senate, the crowd of supporters erupted in cheers when news broke over Twitter that the measure had 33 votes. The demonstrators had spent the day making noise -- singing "Chapel of Love" and "This Little Light of Mine," chanting "This is what democracy looks like!"
Off to the side, a small group of traditional marriage advocates knelt in the direction of the jubilant supporters, heads bowed in prayer.
A few minutes after the vote, Duffy welcomed Cuomo, who had pushed hard for the bill after making its passage a priority in his gubernatorial campaign, into the chamber to offer and accept congratulations.
"This state, when it is at its finest, is a beacon for social justice," Cuomo said in a subsequent news conference. "What this state did today brings this discussion of marriage equality to the nation -- that's the power and beauty of New York."
He applauded the "courage" of Republican senators who voted "Yes," and said Saland was "magnificent" to work with.
The Republican majority announced its intention to bring the bill to the floor just before 6PM.
"After many hours of deliberation and discussion over the past several weeks by members, it has been decided that same-sex marriage legislation will be brought to the full Senate for an up or down vote," said Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Long Island.
In 2009, senators defeated a same-sex marriage bill 38-24.
This year, amid a major push by advocates and Cuomo, the Senate GOP spent the past two weeks negotiating the language of the amendments, which include a clause prohibiting a judge from striking down the exemptions without striking down the marriage rights, explicit application to local non-discrimination laws, and language that would prohibit government entities from penalizing religious organizations or their officers from penalty at the hands of government.
Republican senators spent Friday discussing the issue -- along with a tuition hike at the state's public universities and an omnibus bill to cap local property taxes, renew rent rules in New York City and repeal mandates on local governments -- behind closed doors.
"There was a group that really was pushing for a (statewide) referendum," said Senator Betty Little, R-Queensbury. The idea was eventually discarded because it would not be able to become law for several years.
The main marriage bill passed the Assembly last week 80-63 and passed the amendments earlier Friday evening 82-47.
"Love won, our families won, fairness won, democracy won," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda."
[By JIMMY VIELKIND, Capitol Bureau]