New York 6th state to legalize gay marriage

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Celebrating late into the night, thousands of gay marriage supporters poured into the streets after New York became the sixth and largest state in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage.

After days of contentious negotiations and last-minute reversals by two Republican state senators, the bill was passed, breathing life into the national gay rights movement that had stalled over a nearly-identical bill here two years ago.

Pending any court challenges, legal gay marriages can begin in New York by late July after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed his bill into law just before midnight Friday.

What does it mean? "It means that all of my friends can finally do the thing that they wanted to do, that I can do," Alison Casillo told CBS Station WCBS. "It means that we're equal."

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports that New York is a state with no residency requirement for marriage - meaning couples can come from anywhere to get married here.

Of course that is a boon to businesses - something that was undoubtedly part of the equation for some lawmakers.

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 told CBS News.

Republican State Senator Stephen Saland was one of the last to support the same-sex marriage bill. A self-proclaimed traditionalist, he said 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."

"It's the wrong thing to do," said Maggie Gallagher, Chairman and co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage. "But it's also incredibly politically stupid for the Republican Party to take responsibility for passing the gay marriage bill in New York."

Gay rights advocates hope New York's new law will build up momentum for the battle ahead: Doane notes that same-sex marriage is specifically banned in 39 states across the country.

Same-sex marriage becoming legal in N.Y.

Above: People in the Senate gallery react to the passage of gay marriage at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Friday, June 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

At New York City's Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village pub that spawned the gay rights movement on a June night in 1969, Scott Redstone watched New York sign the historic same-sex marriage law with his partner of 29 years, and popped the question.

"I said, 'Will you marry me?' And he said, 'Of course!'" Redstone said he and Steven Knittweis walked home to pop open a bottle of champagne.

New York becomes the sixth state where gay couples can wed, doubling the number of Americans living in a state with legal gay marriage.

"That's certainly going to have a ripple effect across the nation," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "It's truly a historic night for love, our families, and democracy won."

"We made a powerful statement," Cuomo said. "This state is at its finest when it is a beacon of social justice."

The leading opponent, Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz, was given only a few minutes to state his case during the Senate debate.

"God, not Albany, settled the issue of marriage a long time ago," said Diaz, a Bronx minister. "I'm sorry you are trying to take away my right to speak," he said. "Why are you ashamed of what I have to say?"

The Catholic Bishops of New York said the law alters "radically and forever humanity's historic understanding of marriage."

"We always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love," the bishops stated Friday, "We worry that both marriage and the family will be undermined by this tragic presumption of government in passing this legislation that attempts to redefine these cornerstones of civilization."