Updated at 1:13 a.m., June 24, 2011
ALBANY (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The right of same-sex couples to wed became reality in New York state late Friday night after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the controversial Marriage Equality Act into law.
The Democratic governor signed the measure shortly before midnight, following up on a promise to put his name on the legislation as soon as he received it rather than wait the usual 10 days to sign it for it to become law.
Cuomo was put in position to act after the Republican-controlled Senate ended a week of heated protests and thoughtful debate by narrowly voting in favor of the bill 90 minutes earlier.
Advocates are calling it a historic step as New York is now the sixth but by far the largest state to legalize same-sex marriage. Cuomo's signature means same-sex weddings could begin within 30 days.
"The past six months we didn't work like we were Democrats and Republicans. We worked as New Yorkers," Cuomo said at a press conference following the much-anticipated vote. "People of the state of New York were engaged in this session. They weighed in and they made a difference. Democracy works when people speak and the people spoke in volumes.
"This state when it is at its finest is a beacon for social justice. The legacy of this state was we were the progressive capital of the country. The other states look to New York for the progressive direction. And we reached a new level of social justice this evening."
The bill was sent to the floor just after 5:30 p.m. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced the bill would brought up for an "up or down vote." At approximately 10:30 p.m. the Marriage Equality Act passed by a vote of 33-29, setting off a cascade of cheers and jeers inside the chamber and all over the state.
"We are leaders and we join other proud states that recognize our families and the battle will now go on in other states," said Sen. Thomas Duane, a Democrat.
The nation's third-most populous state joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C., in allowing same-sex couples to wed.
Earlier Friday night, the Assembly passed amendments protecting religious groups that oppose gay marriage from discrimination lawsuits. Amid cheers, the Assembly passed the religious exemptions by a vote of 82-47. The chamber passed the main gay marriage bill a week ago.
But the real story unfolded later in the evening when Senate, following several recesses and statements pro and against, passed the bill.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan quickly condemned the decision, releasing the following statement:
"The passage by the Legislature of a bill to alter radically and forever humanity's historic understanding of marriage leaves us deeply disappointed and troubled.
"We strongly uphold the Catholic Church's clear teaching that we always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love. But we just as strongly affirm that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman in a lifelong, loving union that is open to children, ordered for the good of those children and the spouses themselves. This definition cannot change, though we realize that our beliefs about the nature of marriage will continue to be ridiculed, and that some will even now attempt to enact government sanctions against churches and religious organizations that preach these timeless truths.
"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.
"Our society must regain what it appears to have lost – a true understanding of the meaning and the place of marriage, as revealed by God, grounded in nature, and respected by America's foundational principles."
The Catholic League of New York echoed Dolan's concerns.
"It hasn't been approved by the people. It's the legislators that have shoved this down people's throat," director of communications Jeff Field said. "To redefine it to be between a man and a man or a woman and a woman, why stop there? Why not a man and two women or a man and two men? Where does it stop?"
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was lauded by the governor for championing the same-sex marriage cause from the beginning, called the vote "a historic triumph for equality and freedom."
CBS 2's Sean Hennessey reports the streets of lower Manhattan were filled with jubilation as news of the vote came down.
"I can't say enough about this. It's really amazing," said Cathryn Guerriere of Brooklyn.
"It means all of my friends can finally do the thing that they wanted to do, that I can do. It means that we're equal," said Alison Casillo of Peter Cooper Village.
"Anyone that wants to get married in the state can. It was always a civil rights issue and now the choice is theirs," Mark Kerrigan said.
The vote was a crucial victory for Gov. Cuomo, who said same-sex marriage was a top priority.
"It's a big step forward. I'm so excited. We've been working on this for decades," said Gilbert Baker of Harlem.
"We'll get married one day but not next week. We're not stepping into City Hall tomorrow morning," Flatiron's Alex Kristoxeak said with a smile.
Earlier in the evening the measure gained serious momentum as a veteran Republican senator said he would vote "yes," seemingly giving the bill the support it needed to become law. Senator Stephen Saland said he had long been undecided. He voted against a similar bill in 2009, helping kill the measure and dealing a blow to the national gay rights movement. Before he announced his intention on Friday night, 31 senators were in favor, one short of a majority.
"While I understand that my vote will disappoint many, I also know my vote is a vote of conscience," Saland said in a statement prior to the vote. "I am doing the right thing in voting to support marriage equality."
It turned out, Saland provided the passage with some cushion.
Protesters had crowded the halls of the state Capitol for days, hoping and praying for and against the gay marriage bill. They had been wondering if the issue would ever be brought to a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Sources told CBS 2's Marcia Kramer that the bill was put in position to be brought to the floor because a new round of protections for religious institutions had been secured.
New Yorkers United for Marriage, an advocacy group, said "We remain steadfast in our demand that the state uphold its obligation to the people of the state of New York and allow a vote on marriage equality."
Senate leaders met behind closed doors for hours Friday. Some members reportedly didn't want to see the politically charged issue drag on into the weekend and against the Gay Pride Parade in Manhattan on Sunday and religious services in churches throughout the state, which would have given priests and ministers opposed to same-sex marriage another opportunity to sermonize against it.
WCBS 880's Marla Diamond With New Yorkers United For Marriage And State Senator Michael Gianaris
Opponents of the measure have vowed to vote against Republicans who supported the measure. Thursday, many at the Capitol chanted "If you vote yes, we will vote you out."
Al Jones of 1010 WINS reported that around 3 p.m., Republican senators were holding a closed-door meeting to decide whether to send the bill to the floor for a vote. Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, a Broome County Republican, said GOP senators didn't want to further stretch the 2011 session, which was supposed to have ended Monday.
Senate Democrats said the Republicans were mismanaging important bills, including gay marriage.
"Where is marriage?" asked Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan. "Bring it to the floor. Conventional wisdom is that if it comes to the floor, it will pass. Why not bring it to the floor? It's outrageous."
"Instead, we were discussing corn and onions most of the week," she said, referring to a debate over naming the state vegetable.
Senator Adriano Espaillat, another Democrat from Manhattan, noted the fervent demonstrators waiting for a vote.
"We should stop playing with peoples' lives," Espaillat said. "I have been here 14 years. I haven't seen this level of passion and anxiety ... it's very scary right now."
Lawmakers had been focused on amendments that would protect religious groups from discrimination lawsuits in the event that they do not want to perform gay marriage ceremonies. Thursday's meetings went late into the evening, wrapping up at 11 p.m. Republican Sen. Greg Ball, who said he would vote against the measure, nonetheless said it would likely pass if it comes to a full Senate vote.
New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly was asked if he was at all concerned about the possibility of pop-up demonstrations, especially during Sunday's parade.
WCBS 880's Rich Lamb With NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly
"You know, it is what it is. We're a big police force. We're able to react to those sorts of things. It's something that we have to do," he says.
Kelly said the department has deployed additional resources where the parade ends on Christopher Street, as he put it, because that event goes well into the night and the celebration goes into Monday morning.
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