- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — After days of contentious negotiations and last-minute reversals by two Republican senators, New York became the sixth and largest state in the country to legalize gay marriage, 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.

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.”

Legal challenges of the law and political challenges aimed at the four Republicans who supported gay marriage in the 33-29 vote are expected. Republican senators endured several marathon sessions, combing through several standard but complex bills this week, before taking up the same-sex marriage bill Friday.

The bill came to the floor for a vote after an agreement was reached on more protections for religious groups that oppose gay marriage and feared discrimination lawsuits.

“State legislators should not decide society-shaping issues,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. He said his organization would work in next year’s elections to defeat lawmakers who voted for the measure.

The big win for gay rights advocates is expected to galvanize the movement around the country after an almost identical bill was defeated here in 2009 and similar measures failed in 2010 in New Jersey and this year in Maryland and Rhode Island.

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