NY legalizes gay marriage 42 years after Stonewall

June 25, 2011 - 5:15 AM
APTOPIX Gay Marriage NY

Revelers celebrate in front of the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan's west village following the passing of the same sex marriage bill by a vote of 33 to 29, Friday, June 24, 2011, in New York. Same-sex marriage is now legal in New York after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that was narrowly passed by state lawmakers Friday, handing activists a breakthrough victory in the state where the gay rights movement was born. The gay rights movement is considered to have started with the Stonewall riots in New York City's Greenwich Village in 1969. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)

NEW YORK (AP) — Champagne corks popped, rainbow flags flapped and crowds embraced and danced in the streets of Manhattan's Greenwich Village as New York became the sixth and largest state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill shortly before midnight Friday, almost 42 years to the day that the modern-day gay rights movement was born amid violent encounters between police and gay activists at the Stonewall Inn.

Hundreds who gathered inside and outside the landmark bar erupted in celebration after the Republican-led state Senate cast the decisive vote.

Scott Redstone and his partner of 29 years, Steven Knittweis, hugged. And Redstone popped the question. "I said, 'Will you marry me?' And he said, 'Of course!'"

Queens teacher Eugene Lovendusky, 26, who is gay, said he hopes to marry someday.

"I am spellbound. I'm so exhausted and so proud that the New York state Senate finally stood on the right side of history," he said.

He then repeated a chant he had screamed during a protest at a fundraiser for President Barack Obama the previous night: "I am somebody. I deserve full equality."

Alex Kelston, 26, who works in finance in Manhattan, said he hopped in a cab and rushed to the bar when he heard the news.

"This is the place where the movement started, and it's a way to close the loop and celebrate the full equality of gay people in New York," he said.

The so-called Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969, helped spark the equal rights movement for homosexuals. Gay activists had pinned their hopes on a positive vote this week in New York to help regain momentum in other states in light of recent failed attempts.

Amid Friday's celebration, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and bishops around the state released a statement condemning the passage of the law by the Legislature, saying they were "deeply disappointed and troubled."

"Our society must regain what it appears to have lost — a true understanding of the meaning and the place of marriage, as revealed by God, grounded in nature, and respected by America's foundational principles," the statement from the Roman Catholic leader read.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who lobbied for the bill, was mid-sentence at a press conference on the city budget when City Council Speaker Christine Quinn interrupted him to announce it had passed.

The room exploded in cheers from other lawmakers and staff, as Quinn — the first gay person to hold the job — embraced her colleagues and smiled, tears welling in her eyes.

"It's hard to describe the feeling of having the law of your state changed to say that you ... are a full member of the state and that your family is as good as any other family," she said.

In a way, the decision will change everything for her and her partner, Quinn said.

"Tomorrow, my family will gather for my niece's college graduation party, and that'll be a totally different day because we'll get to talk about when our wedding will be and what it'll look like, and what dress Jordan, our grand-niece, will wear as the flower girl. And that's a moment I really thought would never come," she said.

"I really can't really describe what this feels like, but it is one of the best feelings I have ever had in my life," she said.

Bloomberg called the vote "a historic triumph for equality and freedom."

He said he would support the Republicans who voted for the measure Friday, and that he believed their actions were consistent with GOP ideals of liberty and freedom.

"The Republicans who stood up today for those principles I think will long be remembered for their courage, foresight and wisdom," said the mayor, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent. "Ten, 20, 30 years from now, I believe they will look back on this vote as one of the finest and most proud moments in their life."

Bloomberg, a billionaire who had lobbied in Albany for the measure along with Quinn, has the personal resources to help the Republicans withstand any backlash from their own party.

Celebrities also responded, with Lady Gaga posting on Twitter that she "can't stop crying." The pop star has been urging her 11 million followers to call New York senators in support of the bill.

"The revolution is ours to fight for love, justice+equality. Rejoice NY, and propose. We did it!!!" she also posted.

Talk show host Wendy Williams posted to her Twitter followers as well, saying: "Yay for Gay Marriage! NY, it's about time... jersey we're next! How you doin?"

Meanwhile, the city's official tourism marking agency said the bill was "good news" for the $31 billion industry that it represents.

"Now, more gay couples — and their families and friends — will have an opportunity to celebrate their special day here," said George Fertitta, the CEO of NYC & Co.

In San Francisco, where a march kicked off the city's pride weekend, participants said they were just hearing about what had happened across the country.

"What happened tonight in New York is great, is wonderful, so long as we pick up and keep moving beyond this because a lot more needs to get done," said 26-year-old Kate Lubeck of San Jose.

Pete Weiss of Oakland said he has a lot of good friends in New York who he thinks will take advantage of the new law.

"You'd think California would have been first, but maybe this will spread and we'll be next," the 42-year-old said.

Legalization of gay marriage comes as New York City celebrates gay pride, culminating in a parade on Sunday.

Michael Musto, a columnist for the Village Voice, an alternative weekly, said the timing of the vote "could not be more fortuitous."

"It's definitely going to be the most exuberant gay pride parade in history," he said.

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Associated Press Writers Samantha Gross and Cristian Salazar contributed to this report.