By Joe Anuta
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed sex marriage into law Friday around midnight, giving the LGBT community an extra reason to celebrate during Sunday's Pride Parade in Manhattan and giving a city councilman a chance to break out a long-awaited wedding cake.
By a 33-29 vote, the state Senate passed the controversial measure to end the summer session, making New York the sixth and largest state to allow gay marriages, which can officially begin on July 24. The measure drew praise from gay rights activists across Queens and condemnation from prominent religious figures.
“New York State has said ‘I do’ to equality,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), an openly gay legislator.
Dromm stood outside the Jackson Heights post office Saturday morning with a white cake bedecked in rainbow-colored candy. Someone began playing the traditional processional wedding song on a nearby piano as Dromm cut the cake along with openly gay councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who had just returned from casting his vote in Albany late Friday.
“Yesterday was a ‘where were you?’ moment,” Dromm said to a small crowd gathered on the sidewalk. “Where were you when equality became a reality?”
In the days leading up to the vote, Albany insiders and various senators said that Capitol Hill was packed with protesters and advocates on both sides.
“It’s wild up here,” said state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) Thursday.
Addabbo voted against a marriage equality bill that died in the Senate in 2009. But he, along with two other Senators, voted in favor this time around.
“Literally, you walk down the hall and on one side there are people singing church hymns and on the other there are people singing pro marriage hymns,” Addabbo said.
Other senators described the scene as chaotic, with one calling it “democracy in action.”
Hours before midnight Friday it was still unclear whether those in favor would have the necessary votes to pass the bill, which required bipartisan support, until two upstate Republican senators announced their last-minute support for the bill, after the governor hammered out legislation that would protect religious institutions from lawsuits if they refused to perform marriage ceremonies contrary to their beliefs.
State Sens. Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie) and Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) announced their support on the floor and brought the total to four Republicans in support the bill.
Earlier in the week, state Sens. James Alesi (R-Fairport) and Roy McDonald (R-Troy) announced their support, with Roy saying to those who opposed the bill, “I don’t care what you think."
The defiant tone was likely in response to the state Republican Party’s ultimatum that any candidate who supported the bill would not receive an endorsement in next year’s elections.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York also opposed the bill and issued a statement expressing his dissatisfaction.
“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,” the statement said.
But not all religious figures opposed the bill.
Rev. Ronald Tompkins, a former Jackson Heights pastor, blessed the crowd at the post office Saturday and offered his congratulations to Dromm and the LGBT couples in attendance.
“I read the Bible. I don’t know what they are reading,” Tompkins said following the cake cutting, in reference to religious figures who condemned the legislation. “I wish more churches were here to celebrate this moment.”
Several longtime activists were also present at the event, some of whom had protested at the city’s Marriage Bureau office as much as 40 years ago.
Other activists, like Brendan Fay, have been working in recent years to help same-sex couples travel to Canada to get marriage licenses through his organization Civil Marriage Trail Project.
“This finally allows New Yorkers to marry in their own state,” Fay said.
Oddly enough, gay marriage has always been recognized in the Empire State, Fay said. The marriages of couples who traveled to Canada or other gay-friendly states has been just as legal once they cross back into New York. But now LGBT couples will not have to travel outside the state to get hitched.