Marriage Equality Act
|Marriage Equality Act|
|New York State Legislation|
|Full name||Marriage Equality Act|
|Introduced||June 14, 2011|
|Assembly voted||June 15, 2011|
|Senate voted||June 24, 2011|
|Signed into law||June 24, 2011|
|Sponsor(s)||Assem. Daniel O'Donnell, Sen. Thomas Duane|
|Code||Domestic Relations Law|
|Section||Sections 10, 11, 13|
|Website||Text of the bill and Text of an amendment|
The Marriage Equality Act is a 2011 New York State law that allows gender-neutral marriages for both same- and opposite-sex couples, while prohibiting state and local courts and governments from penalizing religious and religious-supervised institutions, their employees, or clergy for refusing to sanctify or recognize marriages in contradiction with their religious doctrines, or for refusing to provide services and accommodations for such weddings. It was introduced to the New York State Assembly by Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell. It was signed into law on June 24, 2011, and took effect on July 24, 2011.
Before July 24, 2011, New York only allowed for recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed in other states of the union and countries where same-sex marriage is legal, such as Canada and Spain, while also limiting legal recognition of in-state same-sex relationships to the rights of unregistered cohabitation; numerous municipalities afford domestic partnership registries to residents engaged in same-sex relationships.
The bill made New York the sixth state in the United States to legalize and retain the in-state certification and legalization of same-sex marriage (excluding California, which legalized and performed some 18,000 same-sex marriages before a ban on further marriages was promulgated through referendum), and also made the state the most populous in the union to do so.
Prior legislative history 
A similar bill which would legalize same-sex marriage performances in New York was passed by the State Assembly in 2007 by a majority of 85-61, but languished in the Republican-controlled Senate before dying and being returned to the Assembly. Then-governor Eliot Spitzer promoted the bill among lawmakers in Albany.
Another bill, A40003, was passed in the Assembly on May 12, 2009 with a majority of 89-52, but languished in the Senate during the November 10 special session. It was re-passed by the Assembly on December 2 but the Senate equivalent, S4401-2009, was defeated on the same day in the Senate by a majority of 38-24, with 8 Democratic senators voting against the Democratic caucus. David Paterson, who also promoted the bill, introduced the bill on April 16.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, like his predecessor Paterson, promoted the bill and the general movement for legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. The majority of the Democratic senatorial caucus, which constituted the minority in the Senate in June 2011, also supported legalization of same-sex marriage.
Three Democratic senators who voted against the December 2009 bill, Shirley Huntley, Carl Kruger and Joseph Addabbo Jr., announced their support for the 2011 bill on June 13. James Alesi became the first Republican senator to announce his support for the bill, and Roy McDonald became the second on June 14, narrowing the requirement for passage to just one.
Democratic senator Rubén Díaz, Sr. was a vocal opponent of the legalization and resigned from the bicameral Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus to demonstrate his opposition to its position on the legislation. The majority of the Republican caucus in the Senate voiced opposition to any attempt to pass same-sex marriage, and the Conservative Party of New York stated that it would not endorse the reelection of any senator who voted in favor of legalization.
On June 15, 2011, the New York State Assembly passed the Marriage Equality Act by a margin of 80 to 63; this was a smaller margin of victory than three same-sex marriage bills had attained in the Assembly in prior years. On the same day, Governor Cuomo issued a message of necessity to the Senate, allowing the bill to bypass the normal three-day aging process.
A Senate vote was delayed while closed-door negotiations took place among the leadership of the Senate, the Governor and the Republican caucus. The bill was made part of the "controversial calendar" which was eventually moved to the Friday following the intended end of the legislative session on June 20. From June 15 to June 24, protests both for and against the vote took place inside and around the capital complex, and organizations such as the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign, New Yorkers for Marriage Equality, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, and the National Organization for Marriage took part in the rallies.
As thousands of New York residents lobbied the Senators on both sides of the issue, Senator Greg Ball invited the public to participate in an online poll on Twitter and Facebook. Ball eventually decided to vote against the bill. On June 24, Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced the decision to have the Senate consider the legislation as the final bill of the legislative session. Rallies took place in Albany and New York City, with crowds gathered on Christopher Street in front of the Stonewall Inn (the site of the 1969 Stonewall riots and the origin of the first Gay Pride March) in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.
While the Senate met, the Assembly voted on a set of amendments developed to win the support of Senators concerned about the Act's impact on religion-based opposition to same-sex marriage, which detailed exemptions for religious and benevolent organizations. The exemptions are tied to an inseverability clause, ensuring that if the religious exemptions were successfully challenged in court, then the entire legislation and thus legal same-sex marriage would be invalid. It passed with little debate on a vote of 36-26. The same-sex marriage bill passed later that evening by a vote of 33-29. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the act into law at 11:55 P.M. The Act took effect on July 24, 2011. Republican senators Mark Grisanti and Stephen Saland joined Sens. Alesi and McDonald as the only Republicans supporting the legislation, while Sen. Ruben Diaz cast the only Democratic vote against the bill.
The Gotham Gazette reported that the Senate rules were changed by the Democratic conference to prevent Democrat Ruben Diaz, Sr., an opponent of same-sex marriage, from motioning to lay the bill aside for debate and that the rules were changed again during the vote to ensure it would conclude in time to be covered on the 11 pm EDT newscasts. Sen. Kevin Parker alleged that the doors to the Senate chamber were locked on the evening of June 24 to prevent senators from leaving the chamber when the bill was voted on.
Final Senate roll call 
|Joseph Addabbo, Jr.||Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|David Carlucci||Independent Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|Rubén Díaz, Sr.||Democratic||No||No|
|Martin Malave Dilan||Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|John J. Flanagan||Republican||No||No|
|Michael N. Gianaris||Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|Owen H. Johnson||Republican||No||No|
|Timothy M. Kennedy||Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|Jeffrey Klein||Independent Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|Thomas W. Libous||Republican||No||No|
|George D. Maziarz||Republican||No||No|
|Diane Savino||Independent Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|José M. Serrano||Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|Toby Ann Stavisky||Democratic||Aye||Aye|
|David Valesky||Independent Democratic||Aye||Aye|
- PFLAG issued a statement applauding the Senate for passage. Jody Huckaby, Executive Director of PFLAG, said "This step towards equal civil rights – in one of the largest states in our nation – affirms recent polls that most Americans are now in favor of marriage equality for our LGBT loved ones. PFLAG mothers and fathers all over the state of New York will be celebrating with their sons and daughters, who can now legally marry the people they love in their hometowns. "
- Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said "History was made today in New York. This victory sends a message that marriage equality across the country will be a reality very soon. "
- Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson, said “With the freedom to marry in New York, the nationwide majority for marriage will swell, as even more people get to see why marriage matters to same-sex couples, that gay couples, like non-gay, treasure the chance to affirm and strengthen their commitment, and that ending marriage discrimination helps families and hurts no one”
- National Organization for Marriage posted to Twitter that “Marriage loses 33-29 in New York. Sad day for the state and the country. But the fight has just begun.” NOM later pledged to spend $2 million in the 2012 elections to defeat the four Republicans (James Alesi, Mark Grisanti, Roy McDonald, and Stephen Saland) who voted for the bill and three Democrats (Joseph Addabbo, Shirley Huntley, and Carl Kruger) who previously stated opposition to same-sex marriage but voted for the bill.
- The Conservative Party of New York said it would withdraw support for any candidate who voted for the bill.
- New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms made the following comments: "Needless to say, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF) is extremely disappointed with the recent State Senate vote to legalize gay 'marriage'. The bill’s passage was bad enough, but it is compounded by a process that was rotten to the core. There is no nice way to say this; pro-family voters were sold out by the highest echelons of the Republican Party in the Empire State."
Religious and moral institutions 
- The New York State Catholic Conference, led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, stated to NBC News that it was "deeply disappointed and troubled" and that it will "alter radically and forever humanity's historic understanding of marriage. "
- Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, said that "Today we celebrate this victory. Unitarian Universalists are committed to standing on the side of love until the freedom to marry is the right of all Americans."
- Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed the bill into law, said that “New York has finally torn down the barrier that has prevented same-sex couples from exercising the freedom to marry and from receiving the fundamental protections that so many couples and families take for granted.” He also said that “With the world watching, the Legislature, by a bipartisan vote, has said that all New Yorkers are equal under the law.” Governor Cuomo made a speech calling for all states to legalize same-sex marriage; Cuomo stated that “We need marriage equality in every state in this nation… Otherwise, no state really has marriage equality, and we will not rest until it is a reality.” Following the passage of the Marriage Equality Act, Governor Cuomo was criticized for describing the viewpoints of same-sex marriage opponents as being “anti-American.”
- Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, whose in-progress news conference was interrupted by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who announced the passage of the bill, called the passage "a historic triumph for equality and freedom." He also said that he would support the Republicans who voted in favor of the bill in the next legislative election.
- Christine Quinn stated that "This is a monumental occasion for myself, my family, and the LGBT community. No longer will families in New York have to worry about medical decision-making authority, inheritance rights, presumption of parenthood among many other rights and responsibilities. Today true equality is closer than ever."
- White House spokesperson Shin Inouye told the Washington Blade by e-mail that “The president has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples.” He further stated “That’s why he has called for repeal of the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ and determined that his administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the courts. The states should determine for themselves how best to uphold the rights of their own citizens. The process in New York worked just as it should.” On June 23, incumbent President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the Human Rights Campaign's annual gala in which he did not take an explicit position on marriage equality, but instead iterated that New York was “doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do,” insisting that the decision should be left to state governments.
- U.S. junior Senator for New York Kirsten Gillibrand stated that "New York has always led the way for equal rights – from leading the suffrage movement, to Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable speech opposing slavery at Cooper Union, and we have done it again."
- U.S. senior Senator from New York Chuck Schumer posted to Twitter "Congrats to New York for once again championing equality."
- U.S. Congressmember Xavier Becerra stated "New Yorkers have justly reminded America of what it means to establish a ‘more perfect union’".
- Congressmember Jerrold Nadler stated that "Now more than ever, we must pass the Respect for Marriage Act, my legislation to repeal the discriminatory DOMA, and allow New Yorkers and others who are - or will be - legally married to take part in the full measure of protections and obligations of federal law. Just last night in New York City, President Obama reiterated his belief that DOMA violates our Constitution and must be repealed."
- California Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom said "Thank you to NY State Legislature & Governor Cuomo for recognizing that marriage is more than a word: it's about dignity & equality."
- Former New York governor and state senator David Paterson praised the vote, saying "Tonight, I am ecstatic, I am elated, and I am proud to be a New Yorker." He also reciprocated accolades offered to him by Cuomo and referred to his own 2008 directive to recognize out-of-state marriages.
- Openly-gay candidate for 2012 Republican presidential nomination Fred Karger stated "Congratulations New York for leading the way. You sent a powerful message to the world. We are all equal!"
Town clerks 
Two town clerks, one in Barker and another in Granby, resigned their positions due to moral and religious objections to signing marriage certificates for same-sex couplees. For the same reason, a clerk in Guilderland announced she would continue in her position but would no longer officiate at any weddings, allowing another official to do so in her stead. The town clerk of Volney said she will not sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples unless forced to do so. Kathleen Rice, the district attorney for Nassau County, warned all town clerks within her jurisdiction they could face criminal charges if any refused to perform their duties with respect to same-sex marriages. Ledyard Town Clerk Rose Marie Belforti made state and national headlines when she notified the Town of Ledyard that she would not sign gay marriage certificates due to her religious beliefs. Belforti later delegated marriage applications to a deputy. Same-sex marriage advocates and some town residents criticized Belforti for taking this action, and resident Ed Easter attempted to unseat her in the fall of 2011. Belforti was re-elected by a substantial margin. Governor Cuomo took the position that municipal employees responsible for solemnizing or licensing marriages were obliged to solemnize and/or license same-sex marriage licenses as well. "If you can't enforce the law, then you shouldn't be in that position,” Cuomo said.
Media personalities 
- Musician and New York native Lady Gaga, who had personally lobbied senators and had urged fans of her music to call or write their senators, stated on Twitter that "The revolution is ours to fight for love, justice+equality. Rejoice NY, and propose. We did it!!!"
- Wendy Williams posted to Twitter "Yay for Gay Marriage! NY, it's about time... jersey we're next! How you doin?"
- Cyndi Lauper stated that "I have never be[sic] prouder to be a lifelong New Yorker than I am today with the passage of marriage equality. "
- Country music singer Blake Shelton, previously the subject of a controversial misunderstanding on a comment about sexual advances by gay men, responded to a Twitter follower's question if Shelton was "happy gays can get married in new york now?” with the response, "Yes.. I'm very gay about it!!"
- Star Trek actor and California resident George Takei, who, with his husband Brad Altman, owns an apartment in New York City, said that "good waves coming from New York is going to make a profound influence on our situation here." Takei and Altman are among 18,000 same-sex couples who were married in California during the 2008 window period prior to the passage of Proposition 8 by referendum.
- At the 2011 BET Awards, Kerry Washington compared the situation to earlier prohibitions on interracial marriage, saying "we have to be very careful about legislating love in this country. If we say that people of a certain sexual orientation can't be married, we might go back to saying that people of different races can't be married. And we can't afford to do that."
Polling on same-sex marriage 
2012 Elections 
Four Republican state senators−Sens. James Alesi, Mark Grisanti, Roy McDonald, and Stephen Saland−voted in favor of same-sex marriage in 2011. Following their votes, the four senators received public support from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who scheduled a fundraiser for the four senators that was expected to raise $1.25 million. Mayor Bloomberg also made maximum contributions to each of their re-election campaigns.
On May 9, 2012, Alesi announced that he would not run for re-election. He stated that many factors, including the welfare of the Republican Party, led to his decision. Prior to Alesi's announcement, Assemblyman Sean Hanna had expressed interest in challenging Alesi in the Republican primary. Alesi indicated that his same-sex marriage vote would have "severely hampered" his chances in a Republican primary.
Grisanti, McDonald, and Saland each faced primary challenges in 2012. Grisanti defeated attorney Kevin Stocker on a 60% to 40% vote after a campaign in which "much of the bitterest politicking had revolved around Grisanti's controversial 2011 vote to support legalizing same-sex marriage in the state." In the general election Grisanti defeated three other candidates, including a Conservative Party challenger who opposed same-sex marriage.
In the Republican primary, McDonald faced Saratoga County Clerk Kathleen Marchione, who criticized McDonald's vote for same-sex marriage. After a primary contest that was described as "divisive", "bitter," and "nasty," Marchione declared victory by a narrow margin on September 25, 2012. McDonald later opted to cease his campaign and support Marchione. Marchione won the general election on November 6, 2012. Following McDonald's loss, a Newsday headline described the senator as "a political casualty of same-sex marriage."
Saland was challenged in a Republican primary by Neil Di Carlo, who stated that if elected, he would "fight to repeal same-sex marriage and give the people of NY an opportunity to voice their beliefs regarding this issue." Saland won by a margin of 107 votes. Di Carlo continued his campaign as the candidate of the Conservative Party, and Saland lost the general election to Democrat Terry Gipson by a margin of approximately 2,000 votes. Di Carlo received approximately 15,000 votes on the Conservative line.
Of the four Republican state senators who voted in favor of the Marriage Equality Act, only one was re-elected to the State Senate in 2012.
Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Democrat and the most prominent opponent of the Act, announced at a rally on July 24, 2011, that he would file a lawsuit alleging that the same-sex marriages performed on that day were illegal. Diaz said the lawsuit would challenge judicial waivers that allowed a same-sex couple to marry on the same day they applied for a marriage license.
On July 25, 2011, the organization New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, along with the Liberty Counsel, filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court for Livingston County against the New York Senate and other state offices seeking an injunction against the Act. The lawsuit alleges that:
- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a closed-door meeting with all of New York's Republican senators in violation of New York's open meetings law.
- Mayor Bloomberg promised to make large campaign contributions to any Republican senator who voted for the Act.
- Governor Andrew Cuomo waived the constitutionally mandated three-day review period before a vote without justification.
- Lobbyists and the public were denied access to the Senate lobby and to members of the legislature.
- Senate voting procedures were suspended to prevent senators opposed to the bill from speaking.
- Senators failed to follow Senate procedures that require that bills be sent to appropriate committees before consideration by the full Senate.
On November 18, 2011, Acting Supreme Court Justice Robert B. Wiggins allowed the plaintiffs' claims under the Open Meetings Law, but dismissed other portions of the case. He noted: "It is ironic that much of the state’s brief passionately spews sanctimonious verbiage on the separation of powers in the governmental branches, and clear arm-twisting by the Executive on the Legislative permeates this entire process." On July 6, 2012, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division ruled unanimously that no violation of the Open Meetings Law had occurred and dismissed the suit. On August 6, 2012, Liberty Counsel appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, which declined to hear the appeal on October 23.
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- Text of the bill
- Same-sex marriage licenses - Office of the City Clerk of New York City
- New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms legal complaint