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Marriage equality right for all

Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), left, and New York

Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), left, and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo talk in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany after the same-sex marriage bill was approved by the Senate. (June 24, 2011) Credit: AP

New York State chose fairness over fear on Friday night.

Same-sex marriage will soon be the law here. By passing it, lawmakers voted for genuine equality and true family values. Most of all, they voted to continue New York's great tradition of upholding human rights for all.

The historic vote was a triumph for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who made marriage equality a priority and harnessed his great political skills to the cause. The vote was also a defining moment in the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who did the right thing by persuading his conference to bring the measure to the floor even though he would vote no.

Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who also voted against the bill, nonetheless played a significant role in crafting language that would protect religious organization from discrimination lawsuits for refusing to allow same-sex weddings on their property or by their personnel. Without those changes it was unlikely the bill would made it to the Senate floor for vote.

New Yorkers too must take a bow, for without their growing support for marriage equality, the Senate never would have discovered the necessary backbone. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this year found most of the state's voters backing gay marriage, even though seven years ago a majority was opposed. That suggests people open-mindedly came to see that gay New Yorkers should have the same rights as everyone else. Five years ago, the state's top court wisely said that changing society's definition of marriage was the role of the legislative branch. Imposing a different vision of marriage judicially would only have short-circuited the healthy process of public consensus-building that ultimately led to the law's passage.

It's fitting that the Empire State has joined the small band of states to legalize same-sex unions, because the modern gay rights movement was born here, in 1969, when a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village set off a riot -- and set gay New Yorkers on a path that culminated yesterday in Albany.

New York becomes the sixth state in which such nuptials are legal. It's expected that the movement's success here will stir other legislatures to action. Sooner would have been better. But better late than never.

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