New York poised to enact same-sex marriage law

The focus of the gay rights struggle in the United States shifted yesterday to the New York state legislature in Albany, where hundreds of supporters and opponents of a draft bill to give full marriage rights to gay and lesbian New Yorkers jammed corridors and hallways as a final vote went down the wire.

Both sides were feeling the suspense as the Democrat Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, urged passage of the law in the Republican-controlled Senate. Approved by the lower house last week, the bill would make New York the sixth – and the most populous – state to give full marriage rights to gays, lesbians and transsexuals.

As day wore into evening, the fate of the law remained in the balance, with backers one vote shy of securing a majority. As well as Mr Cuomo, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been in the state capital in recent days, lobbying in favour of gay marriage.

The drama in Albany – the camps of supporters and opponents sang opposing anthems to try to get the attention of wavering lawmakers – comes amid subtly shifting sentiments at the national level. President Barack Obama is due later this week to host a Gala with the Gay Community in New York, a first such event for him. Mr Obama's personal position on gay marriage has become a subject of speculation, although he remains on the record as stopping short of supporting full marriage rights for gay couples.

The administration has also stopped supporting the Defence of Marriage Act, the federal law signed by former president Bill Clinton in 1996 that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The move opened the door to legal challenges of the law as being discriminatory and therefore in violation of the US Constitution.

Mr Cuomo, who was elected last year in the footsteps of his father, Mario Cuomo, one of the longest-serving governors of New York, has meanwhile invested much of his early political capitol in getting a gay marriage bill passed. The law would grant same-sex couples equal rights to marry "as well as hundreds of rights, benefits and protections that are currently limited to married couples of the opposite sex", he said. Opposition has been led in part by the Catholic Church. The Bishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, preached against it from the pulpit at the weekend.

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