New York State became the 6th state to legalize same-sex marriage. After years of intense advocacy from supporters and those who oppose, the Assembly passed the bill by a two-thirds vote and the Senate vote was approved 33-29. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the law which will take effect in 30 days. “Marriage Equality has become the law of the land,” said State Senator John Sampson. Senator Sampson explained how the foundation for the history-making vote was laid under his leadership when he was Senate Majority Leader. “I did lay the foundation in December of 2009 when Marriage Equality, for the first time ever, came to the floor,” he said.
Between 2009, when Sampson garnered 24 votes in support, and 2011 when he obtained near-Democratic unity (Sen. Diaz from the Bronx was the lone holdout), the Democratic Conference understood,”We were on the cusp of passing Marriage Equality here in NYS,” Sampson said. “There were Republican votes needed because they are in the majority (of the Senate currently). We felt we did the right thing.”
Sampson understands the Marriage Equality vote wasn’t easy and took into account the perspectives of various constituencies that are sensitive. “Some would argue it is a civil rights issue; others would argue it is a human rights issue,” Sampson said. “My colleagues know that irrespective of our personal beliefs, we represent a constituency and we have to listen to our constituency. If you see that the majority of New Yorkers are in support of Marriage Equality, sometimes we have to step back and leave your personal beliefs aside. And just listen to the people.”
Obtaining those Senate Democratic votes was a challenge. “This was a vote of conscience for a lot of people. That is why we were able to get 29 Democrats,” Sampson said. “If we did not get those 29 Democrats, and if I wasn’t able to work with those three Democrats to move their positions in 2009 when they voted no and got them to vote yes in 2011, Marriage Equality would never have happened at all. We laid the foundation in 2009; we basically watered that foundation when we came up with 29 votes.”
Religious sensitivities were acknowledged, Sampson explained. “To garner the support of the last two Republican individuals, Sen. Saland and Sen. Grisanti, they wanted to make sure there were certain protections available for certain constituencies,” he said. “That was a show of respect for them.” Regarding strong views on same-sex marriage with African-American and African-Caribbean communities Sampson said, “We are open-minded people, but you have to understand that there is that spiritual/religious aspect that you have to respect. I have to respect their own ideology and their position on the issue. I can understand our ministers and everybody else. They are talking about the word of God. They are talking about Scripture. I can respect their position also.”
Since Marriage Equality has been signed into law, a new Quinnipiac poll found New York voters support allowing same-sex marriage 54-40 percent. Those under age 35 support 70-26 percent. Voters 35-64 are also supportive, while voters over age 65 oppose 57-37. According to the same poll, white Catholics split 48 – 48 percent on same-sex marriages. Jews support it 67 – 30 percent, while white Protestants oppose the measure 54 – 40 percent, the independent Quinnipiac University poll finds. Voters who say they have no religion support the measure 78 – 17 percent.
Opposition from religious leaders to same-sex marriage does not affect their attitudes on the issue, 70 percent of New York State voters say. Because of this opposition, 17 percent of white Protestants, 21 percent of white Catholics and 17 percent of Jews are less likely to support same-sex marriage. There was no racial breakdown.
In June 1969, the Stonewall Inn Riot in New York City’s West Village kick-started the gay rights movement. At that time, no one dreamed the right for same-sex couples would have the right to marry 42 years later. New York has now joined five other states that permit same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, as well as the District of Columbia.