New Yorkers gather at The Stonewall Inn to in anticipation...

New Yorkers gather at The Stonewall Inn to in anticipation of the passage of the same-sex marriage bill. (June 24, 2011) Credit: C.S. Muncy

ALBANY -- The State Senate on Friday night passed a historic and bitterly contested bill that will make New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

The legislation passed 33-29 in the GOP-controlled Senate, and cheers immediately erupted in the chamber. The Democrat-led Assembly, which had passed a same-sex marriage bill last week, approved the amended version earlier Friday night. Long Island's nine state senators, all Republicans, voted no.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had made approval of the landmark bill a linchpin of his legislative agenda, said after the vote that New York, "when it is at its finest, is a beacon for social justice.

"What this state said today brings the discussion of marriage equality to a new plane," Cuomo said. "New York made a powerful statement, not just for the people of New York but for the people around this nation.

" . . . The legislature, they responded to their better angels," he added. "I am always proud to be a New Yorker but tonight I'm especially proud to be a New Yorker."

Cuomo signed the bill Friday night.

The fate of the bill became clear when Sen. Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie) announced that he would vote for the bill, becoming the 32nd -- and deciding -- vote in favor. Saland had voted against a similar bill in 2009, helping kill the measure and dealing a blow to the national gay rights movement.

Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), who was undecided until the very end but who became the 33rd yes vote, said: "I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage."

Sen. Thomas K. Duane (D-Manhattan), the only openly gay senator, told senators before voting yes: "I know this is a tough vote. There are only heroes . . . on both sides of the aisle."

But Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), who voted no, argued that same-sex marriage goes against traditional family values. "It's unbelievable that the Republican Party" would allow the bill to the Senate floor, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who voted no, agreed to bring the bill the floor after weeks of closed-door caucuses, furtive trips by small groups of senators back-and-forth to Cuomo's offices and a daylong conference of Republican senators on Friday.

"After many hours of deliberation and discussion over the past several weeks among the members, it has been decided that same sex marriage legislation will be brought to the full Senate for an up-or-down vote," Skelos said in a statement. "As I have said many times, this is a very difficult issue and it will be a vote of conscience for every member of the Senate."

For months, it was never clear if the Republicans would even allow a vote. Several veteran Republicans argued strenuously against forcing members to take a public stand, figuring it was a no-win situation politically.

Republicans also faced strong pressure from the Conservative Party. A minor party that often endorses Republicans, it vowed to never back any senator who voted for same-sex marriage.

Skelos had put off discussions until the very end of the legislative session, using that leverage to drive bargains on other issues such as the statewide property-tax cap. While that bought time, it also helped fuel rhetorical battles and raucous demonstrations that have filled the Capitol for the past two weeks.

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