Jun 24, 2021 5 mins, 1 sec
But on June 24, 2011, when the New York Legislature passed the state’s marriage equality measure, only 46 percent did, barely surpassing the 45 percent who opposed the right of gay couples to wed. .

Five years earlier, in 2006, the New York Court of Appeals had determined the state constitution did not guarantee same-sex couples the right to marry.

Failed attempts to pass marriage equality measures in 2007 and 2009, however, left supporters deflated. .

Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who served as speaker of the New York City Council during both attempts, said the 2009 defeat in the state Senate felt “like the rug had been pulled out from under us.”  .

[David] Paterson, and he had no political juice,” Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, who introduced five marriage bills over four years, said.

“I don’t want to be the governor who just fights for marriage equality,” he told attendees at an Empire State Pride Agenda dinner in fall 2010, the Observer reported then.

“I want to be the governor who signs the law that makes equality a reality in the state of New York?

5, 2011, in his first State of the State address, Cuomo promised same-sex marriage legislation would pass that year.

With that mandate, activists got to work: The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, partnered with Freedom to Marry, a national organization, and Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide LGBTQ group, to form New Yorkers United for Marriage, an umbrella group laser-focused on getting legislation passed.

Not only had they lost in New York in 2009, but that same year a same-sex marriage bill signed into law in Maine was overturned in a voter referendum.

“We had the opposite of momentum,” said Brian Ellner, who left then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office in 2011 to help lead New Yorkers for Marriage Equality.

For O’Donnell, one of six openly LGBTQ lawmakers serving in the state Legislature at the time, the way to win was to make it more personal: Previously, he said, state Sen.

They worked diligently to garner Republican support because they didn’t want marriage equality to become a party-line issue, “even though in my heart I knew it clearly was going to be,” O’Donnell said.

“At the time, support for marriage equality was barely at 50 percent in New York, I think, and we really wanted to get it to a majority, if not supermajority, before the vote.”.

After the disastrous 2009 vote, he wanted to be certain they weren’t working at cross purposes.

What many people don’t understand, O’Donnell said, is that “part of New York is more like Ohio” than New York City. .

As he lobbied for the bill, O’Donnell said, “many senators said to me privately, ‘I think it's the right thing to do, but my voters won't tolerate it.’” .

So New Yorkers for Marriage Equality launched an enormous field effort with volunteers working across districts — knocking on doors, standing outside supermarkets — to talk to constituents and get postcards signed. .

New Yorkers for Marriage Equality also launched a massive video campaign, with famous New Yorkers making the case for same-sex marriage.

Advocates turned up the heat on state senators, pressing their friends, relatives, even their rabbis, to track their vote and bring them to a "yes.".

Finally, on June 13, 2011, three Democratic state senators who had opposed same-sex marriage in 2009 — Joseph Addabbo Jr., Shirley Huntley and Carl Kruger — announced they would vote "yes" this time.

The Marriage Equality Act was introduced in the Assembly on June 14, and the following day, it passed the chamber 80 to 63.

“The Capitol was entirely filled with people, so it's hot as hell, and there are thousands of people on the stairways, in the hallways, everywhere,” O’Donnell said.

The vote was a nail-biter till the end, O’Donnell said — a rarity in Albany, where most bills don’t come to the floor unless passage is practically guaranteed.   .

Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie, a Republican who voted against same-sex marriage in 2009, announced he would vote “yes” the same day the bill came to the Senate floor.

"I have defined doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality," he said during the debate on the measure.

"With the world watching, the Legislature, by a bipartisan vote, has said that all New Yorkers are equal under the law," Cuomo said in a statement.

"With this vote, marriage equality will become a reality in our state, delivering long overdue fairness and legal security to thousands of New Yorkers.".

The New York Marriage Equality Act amended New York's Domestic Relations Law to affirm that “no government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being the same sex or a different sex.” .

Ellner, who was in Albany as the vote was taken, said his only regret was not celebrating at the Stonewall Inn with the thousands of LGBTQ people and allies who had gathered there.

“He told all his friends he was going to ‘Uncle Danny's parade,’” O’Donnell said.

The New York Marriage Equality Act took effect Sunday, July 24, 2011, and couples started getting married that same day.

“We’d been together so long at that point that once the vote happened, we just sort of looked at each other and said, ‘So, we're doing this, right?’” Thompson said. .

“It had been such a long push for marriage in New York, and we’d all been disappointed so many times before,” Thompson said.

“So it ended up being a big, huge event,” Thompson said

“Just to know that everyone there was rooting for us was a monumental thing,” Thompson said

“The forms still had ‘man’ and ‘woman’ on it,” Thompson said

“People were booking flights to New York to get married,” O’Donnell said

For O’Donnell, the writing was now on the wall for federal marriage equality

It wasn’t a bloodless victory, though: The four Republican state senators who crossed the aisle to support the bill all were out of office within the next few years. 

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