On June 24, 2011, New York officially enacted the Marriage Equality Act, becoming the sixth state in the United States to legalize same sex marriages. The legislation passed after weeks of intense negotiations and fund raising and lobbying efforts on both sides of the issue.
RECENT POLITICAL HISTORY
The controversy around gay marriage rights came to a head with the September 1996 Federal Act known as DOMA or the Defense of Marriage Act signed into law by then president Bill Clinton, which denied federal benefits to same sex married couples and also allowed states to ignore gay marriages sanctioned in other states.
New York voted down a proposition on 12/2009 to legalize same sex marriage after a year of intense lobbying and more than a $1 million in contributions to New York legislative races.
In 2010 Congress repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy that banned gays from serving in the military. Also in 2010, Mr. Cuomo made a campaign promise to New Yorkers to help support gay marriage rights.
In February of 2011, President Obama directed the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA unconstitutionality law suits. Attorney General Eric H. Holder jr. stated on February 23rd that DOMA should be struck down since it violates gay couples' constitutional rights to equal protection of the laws.
In June of 2011, the four key Republican senators who had earlier voted against the proposition reversed their vote. The critical vote in the New York State Senate was 33 for and 29 against passage of the legislation. The four key senators stated that in the intervening years the thinking of their constituents had changed and evolved. Senator Stephen Solend, one of the four key senators, told reporters that it was also a "vote of conscience." The Quinnipiac Poll supported the idea that general sentiment about gay marriage in New York state has shifted since 2004. The poll showed 37% in favor of gay marriage in 2004 and 58% in favor of gay marriage in 2011. The New York State Senate did add certain religious exemptions to the 2011 proposed legislation, giving religious organizations the right to refuse to perform religious marriage ceremonies to gay couples.
Governor Andrew Cuomo's eloquent support of the Marriage Equality Act was also an important factor in the recent success of the legislation. His top aide helped coordinate efforts of various gay rights organizations. Gay rights organizations waged a more than $3 million campaign on TV and radio to support passage of the Marriage Equality Act.
NEW YORK'S MARRIAGE EQUALITY ACT
New York is considered a pivotal state in the efforts to create state legislation in favor of gay marriage. Not only is it the birthplace of the Gay Rights Movement in 1969 in Greenwich Village, but its large size and influence make this legislation an important standard for the rest of the nation. One significant feature of the legislation is that there is no residency requirement for couples for a marriage license. Gay couples can come from anywhere in the United States to be legally married in New York. Also, any change in the law in New York would require a state constitutional convention. The law further provides for all the protections given to any married couple under state and local laws. The New York Civil Liberties Union has posted online answers to frequently asked questions about New York's Marriage Equality Act.