NEW YORK (AP) — Many obstacles still lie ahead for supporters of same-sex marriage, and eventually they will need Congress or the Supreme Court to embrace their goal. For the moment, though, they are jubilantly channeling the lyrics of "New York, New York."
With a historic vote by its Legislature late Friday, New York became the sixth — and by far the most populous — state to legalize same-sex marriage since Massachusetts led the way, under court order, in 2004.
With the new law, which takes effect after 30 days, the number of Americans in same-sex marriage states more than doubles. New York's population of 19 million surpasses the combined total of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia.
The outcome — a product of intensive lobbying by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo — will have nationwide repercussions. Activists hope the New York vote will help convince judges and politicians across the country, including a hesitant President Barack Obama, that support of same-sex marriage is now a mainstream viewpoint and a winning political stance.
"New York sends the message that marriage equality across the country is a question of 'when,' not 'if,'" said Fred Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said the goal is attainable by 2020, or sooner, "if we do the work and keep making the case."
The New York bill cleared the Republican-controlled Senate by a 33-29 margin, thanks to crucial support from four GOP senators who joined all but one Democrat in voting yes. The Democrat-led Assembly, which previously approved the bill, passed the Senate's stronger religious exemptions in the measure, and Cuomo swiftly signed it into law.
Gay rights activists have been heaping praise on Cuomo for leading the push for the bill, seizing on an issue that many politicians of both parties have skirted. Yet the Senate vote marked the first time a Republican-controlled legislative chamber in any state has supported same-sex marriage, and several prominent Republican donors contributed to the lobbying campaign on behalf of the bill.
For those engaged in the marriage debate nationally, recent months have been a political rollercoaster.
Bills to legalize same-sex marriage failed in Maryland and Rhode Island despite gay rights activists' high hopes. However, Illinois, Hawaii and Delaware approved civil unions, joining five other states — California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington — that provide gay couples with extensive marriage-like rights.
Adding those eight states to the six that allow gay marriage, more than 35 percent of Americans now live in states where gay couples can effectively attain the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Just 11 years ago, no states offered such rights.
For now, gay couples cannot get married in 44 states, and 30 of them, including Tennessee, have taken the extra step of passing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.