Queens elected officials and community leaders celebrated the state Senate's "historic" approval of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage following days of uncertainty on whether the bill would even come to the legislative body's floor.
The Senate passed the bill late Friday night with a 33-29 vote.
State Sen. Tony Avella, D-Bayside, said the bill represented a "great day in the fight against discrimination and hatred."
"This vote was a long time in the making and is, perhaps, the most important vote in my career as an elected official," Avella said. "The hallmark of America has been our continuing efforts to redefine and expand the concept of human rights and individual liberties."
State Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, D-Bayside, was also among the legislators representing northeast Queens who backed the gay marriage bill.
"Today is an historic day for the state of New York," he said. "I am proud that with my 'yes' vote on marriage equality in the Assembly, I was able to play a part in advancing civil rights for all New Yorkers."
Charles Ober, former president and current treasurer of the Queens Lesbian and Gay Community Center, said he believed the passing of the bill signified that the "tide had changed."
"I think people have been paying more attention and understanding that the traditional understanding of things is not the full answer to human existence," he said. "Marriage is about commitment and love."
It’s been a long road for both sides of the gay marriage debate in New York State.
The mayor of New Paltz, Jason West, was the first New York public official to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. However, subsequent challenges by gay marriage opponents resulted in the courts striking down those unions as unconstitutional in 2006.
Shortly after, the State Legislature went to work.
A bill legalizing same-sex unions was first introduced in the Assembly in 2007 and later passed the Democratic-controlled chamber multiple times since.
However, the politics of gay marriage has been a much more complex affair in the state Senate — one that often transcended party lines.
Eight senate Democrats joined Republicans to vote down the measure in 2009. Of those Dems, six hailed from the five boroughs, led by state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., D-Bronx, a Pentecostal minister who opposes same-sex unions on religious grounds.
In the last days before the bill’s passage, it was concerns raised by religious leaders like Diaz Sr. that dominated negotiations between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and wavering Senate Republicans.
With the passage of the bill, New York joins five states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex unions.
Following the vote, Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he believed state legislators "listened to their constituents and did the right thing."
"History was made today in New York," he said. "The bipartisan nature of the vote is compelling proof that marriage equality is increasingly an issue that unites, not divides."
In a statement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he believed the vote was "an historic triumph for equality and freedom."
But Frank Skala, president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association, said he was opposed to the State Legislature's passage of the bill.
"It should not be done," he said. "They've been chopping away at what should be marriage and now it will be meaningless. I think there's an economic reason for this. People who are pushing for this want to get benefits or lock into somebody's health plan."