ALBANY – Gay marriage rights were approved Friday night after a Hudson Valley Republican said he was becoming the crucial 32nd vote to carry the measure through after marathon weeks of lobbying, cajoling and threats by both sides in the emotional debate that has tested the religious and political limits for many state lawmakers.
The vote was 33-29, two more than needed.
"USA! USA! USA!'' a crowd of spectators chanted after the vote.
Sen. Stephen Saland, a Dutchess County Republican, said the bill had changed enough to ensure religious organization will be protected by the measure.
“I’m certainly at peace with my vote. It was a struggle,’’ Saland said on the Senate floor shortly before 10pm.
Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, to the applause of spectators in the gallery, said he was ending his past opposition and voting for the bill.
"I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage,'' Grisanti said.
He noted his years of opposition and campaign vows to oppose gay marriage. "To those whose support I may lose, please know in the past I was telling you what I believed at that time was the truth,'' Grisanti said.
"I struggled with this immensely,'' he added.
In the end, though, he said, "I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, people of my district (and) across this state ... the same rights I have with my wife."
Unless senators who already pledged to switch their votes, the measure will pass with at least 32 votes tonight.
Debate was still underway Friday night, but 31 senators already had said they support the measure. It is uncertain if any other Republicans will join Saland.
New York will become the sixth state, and the largest, to permit same-sex marriages once signed into law, as promised by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Cheers from supporters could be heard flowing onto the Senate floor after an amendment providing additional religious organization protections was approved by 36 votes.
-- Tom Precious