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New York Legalizes Gay Marriage


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


SIMON: Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio was at the Capitol last night and joins us now from Albany. Karen, thanks for being with us.

KAREN DEWITT: Sure thing.

SIMON: Tell us about scene - 10:30 last night.

DEWITT: Governor Cuomo, really, he signed the bill with breathtaking speed. He had signed it by 11:55 on Friday night.

SIMON: The vote was reportedly knotted up at 31-31 for about 10 days. What broke the stalemate?

DEWITT: What really broke the impasse was they came up with this amendment that would grant exemptions for religious organizations, essentially saying that a religious group doesn't have to provide, say, a church hall or catering for any marriage if it's against their beliefs and it also protects the religious groups from getting sued. And that amendment provided cover for the final two senators to change their votes, including Senator Mark Grisanti from the Buffalo area. And here's what he had to say about that on the Senate floor.

MARK GRISANTI: Who am I to say that someone does not have the same rights that I have with my wife who I love or to have the 1,300-plus rights that I share with her?

DEWITT: It was a pretty dramatic moment. At the end, though, most of the GOP senators did vote against it. They were helped by 29 Democrats who voted for it.

SIMON: And here's what Governor Cuomo said last night in signing the bill:

ANDREW CUOMO: What this state said today brings this discussion of marriage equality to a new plane.

SIMON: Help understand Governor Cuomo's role and the possible political impact this has for him.

DEWITT: Well, it's really a key political victory for him. He named legalizing gay marriage as one of his top priorities. And I think that he felt he really needed this to balance what so far had been a really fiscally conservative agenda. He cut the state budget by $10 billion, he cut schools and health care, he pushed a property tax cap, he demanded union concessions and he refused to renew a tax on millionaires. But winning gay marriage really helps him with his base in New York State and also I think he really wants to develop a national reputation as kind of a new Democrat, fiscally conservative but socially progressive. And so far he's on that track.

SIMON: And what are some of the prominent thinkers in the gay rights movement who descended on Albany think of the national significance of this passing?

DEWITT: Well, I think it was a real boost to gay rights groups. They've had some setbacks in California - first gay marriage was legal then they had Proposition A, which was outlawed by a popular referendum and now there's endless court action. So, I think they're hoping maybe the tide has turned for gay marriage.

SIMON: Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio. Thanks so much.

DEWITT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.