ALBANY, N.Y. (BP)--The movement to legalize "gay marriage" nationwide scored a landmark victory Friday night when New York's Senate passed a bill that will make the state the most populous -- and easily the most influential one -- to redefine marriage.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled body, 33-29, and now goes to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who supports it. Voting for it were 29 Democrats and four Republicans. The Assembly already passed it.
It was a huge moment for the homosexual movement, which three years ago saw another big state -- California -- legalize "gay marriage" only later to prohibit it through a voter-approved constitutional amendment. That will not happen in New York, which, unlike California, does not allow citizens to drive the initiative process. Any marriage amendment in New York must be initiated by the legislature -- a highly unlikely event.
Just two years ago, a "gay marriage" bill failed in the Senate when it was controlled by Democrats. But this time, several senators flipped from "no" to "yes" votes.
New York's population is more than the combined populations of the five states where "gay marriage" already is legal: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa. New York is the third state to pass such a bill via the legislative process.
New York's influence on other states, particularly New Jersey -- where "gay marriage" is not legal -- is viewed as significant by many observers. The bill's passage ends a string of losses by "gay marriage" supporters, who had seen bills in Maryland and Rhode Island fail in recent weeks.
Supporters of "gay marriage" hope that a groundswell of states passing such bills will help create momentum for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down all traditional marriage laws and legalize "gay marriage" in all 50 states. The nation's highest court, though, will have to weigh other facts: 29 states define marriage as between a man and a woman in their state constitutions. The court has yet to take up a "gay marriage" case, and one could be months if not years away.
The fact that the bill passed a Republican-controlled body irked conservatives, who thought that when the GOP took over the Senate in November, any "gay marriage" bill was all but dead.
Yet the bill picked up momentum in recent days when a handful of Republican senators, working with Cuomo and Assembly Democratic leaders, carved out language that would provide additional religious liberty protections. The extent of those protections, though, was unclear, even as the bill was passing.
The National Organization for Marriage, which opposed the bill, called it "sham religious liberty language." The organization also said it was unclear whether the language would allow Catholic adoption agencies to stay in business in the state. After "gay marriage" was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, Catholic Charities chose to get out of the adoptions instead of being forced to place children in same-sex homes.
The religious liberty language that passed the New York Senate also has nothing to prevent "gay marriage" from being discussed as normal in elementary schools -- something that has happened in other states.
Although most of the votes for the bill came from Democrats, it was the Republican conference that allowed the bill to come to the floor -- a fact that social conservative leaders say they will remember in 2012 elections. The GOP holds a slim 32-30 lead, and Republican senators worry the bill's passage will demoralize their base. The National Organization for Marriage -- which played a key role in overturning "gay marriage" laws in Maine and California -- had pledge $1 million to help defeat any GOP senator who voted for the bill.
The only Democrat to oppose the bill, Sen. Ruben Diaz, had urged the GOP not to bring the bill to the floor.
"It is the Republican Party that will provide the vote to pass this legislation," Diaz, a Pentecostal minister, said during floor debate.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press
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