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Gay Marriage Signed into Law After Historic State Senate Vote

By Michael P. Ventura | June 24, 2011 11:33pm | Updated on June 24, 2011 4:35pm

By Jill Colvin, Ben Fractenberg, Patrick Hedlund, Tom Liddy and Michael Ventura

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Gay marriage is coming to New York.

In a historic 33-29 vote late Friday night, the state Senate passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill as the clock neared midnight. 

The law will take effect in 30 days.

"The bill is passed," Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said after the Senate vote, taken at 10:30 p.m. The crowd gathered in the Senate chamber then burst into thunderous applause.

"Thank you! Thank you!" spectators were heard chearing. A chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" also broke out.

The vote touched off a wave of celebration across Manhattan.

In Greenwich Village, people jumped up and down and cheered at the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn fought back tears Friday night as word came that the state Senate had passed a gay marriage bill.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn fought back tears Friday night as word came that the state Senate had passed a gay marriage bill.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

Over in the East Village, at the gay bar Nowhere, the DJ stopped the music to give patrons the news.

One of them was Icaro Drager, 22, of Harlem, who wasn't expecting the bill to pass.

"We've been fighting for so long to feel like we're everyone else," Drager said. "It's a new beginning for us. 

"I think people will look back on this day and say I can't believe it wasn't legal. I feel like we're closer to equality."

New York becomes the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. Twenty-nine Democrats and four Republicans voted for the measure.

"This state when at its finest is a beacon of social justice," Cuomo said at a press conference after the vote. "What this state said today brings this discussion of marriage equality to a new plane."

State Sen. Tom Duane, who represents the West Village and is the only openly gay state senator, gave a heartfelt speech on the chamber floor just before the vote and recounted his own coming out and the struggle for gay rights over the years.

"Marriage says that we are a family," Duane said. "And marriage strengthens all families. It's going to strengthen my family and all New York families."

He also addressed the historic vote, and the controversy surrounding it.

"I know this is a tough vote," he said. "There are only heroes in this chamber today. There are no villains. There are only heroes on both sides of the aisle."

The vote comes after weeks of heated debate and political wrangling in Albany, and years of activism on the streets of Manhattan and across the state.

The bill, which had previously passed the Assembly, was one vote shy of passage for days before Senate leaders reached an agreement late Friday afternoon on marriage protections for religious groups, which had been a sticking point.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos annouced Friday afternoon that the bill would be brought to a vote.

"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.

While most Senate Democrats were behind the bill, Sen. Ruben Diaz of The Bronx, whose granddaughter is gay, was not.

"I am the only Democrat voting against the bill," he said just before the vote. "I will wear that as a badge of honor."

In the days leading up to Friday's vote, it was not clear whether the measure would win a majority. Several Republicans remained undecided up until the last moment.

One of them was state Sen. Stephen Saland, of Columbia County, who ultimately voted yes.

"I certainly am at peace with my vote," Saland told the Senate chamber. "It was a struggle. It was an extraordinary deliberation."

Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo was also once on the fence. But he voted yes in the end because he felt he could not deny people "the same rights that I have with my wife."

The news broke as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn were announcing a new budget deal.

"I really can't really describe what this feels like, but it is one of the best feelings I have ever had in my life," said the openly-gay Quinn, choking back tears.

She said she would meet with her family tomorrow and discuss the details of her future wedding day.

"That's a moment that I thought would never come," Quinn said. "It's an amazing day."

The passage was "an historic triumph for equality and freedom," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "We have taken the next big step on our national journey toward a more perfect union."