Leading article: A victory – but not an end to the equality battle

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Gay marriage has become a defining issue in the past few years in what are often called America's "culture wars", which pit socially liberal, secular Democrats against hard-right, often highly religious Republicans. But the outcome of the gay marriage battle in New York is a reminder that America's internal splits are not as clear-cut as some believe.

Two years after a Democrat-controlled state senate rejected gay marriage, a Republican-controlled senate has legalised it. Moreover, some of the bitterest opponents of gay marriage in New York were Latino Democrats, some espousing the kind of views that one would normally expect to hear coming from conservative Republicans. No doubt, Barack Obama's awareness of the growing voting strength of the Latino community informed his studiedly non-committal attitude towards gay marriage. To the dismay of his gay supporters, the President's most recent Delphic utterance merely noted that his views on the subject were "evolving".

Gay rights supporters, meanwhile, celebrate a key victory. New York is a catch. Its population of 19 million outnumbers the combined populations of the five other US states plus the District of Columbia that previously voted to allow gay marriage, a process that started with Massachusetts in 2004.

But whether America will follow New York, or whether gay marriage remains a New England exception, is a moot point. The first caveat is the narrowness of the vote in New York: 33 for; 29 against. This was no landslide, and if that is the breakdown in the city of Sex and the City, one has to wonder if a gay marriage bill could ever make it through the senate of a rural state such as West Virginia.

Then there is the backlash. Thirty US states have taken pre-emptive action since the Massachusetts vote in 2004, passing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Far from backing down after last Friday's vote in Albany, their resistance to same-sex unions may increase, principled hostility to the idea combining with an instinctive distaste for the mores of the Empire State. Clearly, it too early to say whether gay marriage is ceasing to divide America.

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