Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo strode down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue in the city's gay pride parade Sunday as joyful crowds celebrated the state's legalization of same-sex marriage, a victory that could strengthen Cuomo's political brand.
By leading a statewide fight for legalization, Cuomo proved himself a canny political strategist, cemented his relationship with gay and lesbian voters and further established himself as a force in national politics, experts said.
"Without question it makes him a major national player," said New York-based Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "It dramatically increases his fundraising base."
As he walked the parade route to Greenwich Village with his girlfriend, television personality Sandra Lee, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others, Cuomo accepted hugs, kisses and congratulations from the jubilant crowd.
"I believe New York has sent a message to this nation loud and clear: It is time for marriage equality," Cuomo said.
Supporters carried signs saying "Thank You Governor Cuomo" and "Promise Kept." A few people protesting passage of the bill also carried signs, including one listing the Ten Commandments, but they were in the minority.
Spectators piled onto police barricades, climbed light poles and sat on each other's shoulders to get a better view. Many carried gay pride flags or sported rainbow-colored boas, shirts and even socks.
Merrick native Jane Kornbluth, 61, and her partner, Arlene Chapman, carried a sign that read "Andrew Cuomo is our best man." The couple has been together for 28 years, and say they can't wait to be married -- both for love and for practical reasons.
"I can get on the lease," Kornbluth said of the Manhattan apartment the two have shared for nearly three decades.
"With these equal rights, it makes it a lot easier for everyone," Catalano said. "Like women's rights, like black rights, it's a civil rights issue."
Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), who married his partner of nearly three decades in Connecticut in 2009, said he hosted a reception for Cuomo before he announced his candidacy for governor. There, Cooper said, Cuomo vowed to fight for marriage equality.
"We obviously would not have achieved victory . . . without the very strong support and perseverance of Gov. Cuomo," Cooper said. "And I think the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community owes him a huge debt of gratitude and I don't think that will soon be forgotten."
Cooper noted that while the governor's long-term career plans are not known, becoming a standard-bearer for same-sex marriage will secure support among progressive Democrats. And it's those voters, he said, who are most active in Democratic presidential primaries.
Sheinkopf said the passage of the same-sex marriage bill marks another win for Cuomo, whose other victories include passage of a property tax cap and a tougher ethics law.
"He's made himself politically unassailable on both sides," Sheinkopf said. "He's now a civil rights champion while being a fiscal conservative."
Bruce Gyory, a Democratic political consultant and adjunct professor of political science at University at Albany, said Cuomo took a shrewd, three-step approach to getting the bill through the Legislature.
First, Gyory said, he took charge of the bully pulpit and was able to get disparate gay advocacy organizations to join forces. Second, he worked closely with Senate Democrats to get 29 yes votes, which is five more than they produced in 2009, when a same-sex marriage bill was defeated.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), after weeks of discussions, allowed the issue to go to an up-or-down vote.
With the pieces in place, only three yes votes from the Republican majority in the Senate were needed to secure victory on Friday. There were four.
Ultimately, the margin of support was 33 votes to 29. Long Island's nine state senators, all Republican, voted against the bill. The Assembly had already passed a version.
"I don't know that there was a viable alternative to not bringing it to the floor because I don't think the people of the state would tolerate not having a vote," Cuomo said of Skelos' decision.
New York is the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage, but Gyory noted that it's the first large state to do so. Gyory said that polls consistently demonstrate that support for same-sex marriage is increasing at a steady rate.
"In five or six or eight years, people will look back and remember who made the breakthrough and there will be a real diminution to the opposition," Gyory said. "This victory won by the governor will weather very well in national politics."
With Jennifer Barrios
and Emily Ngo