NEW YORK — Many obstacles still lie ahead for supporters of same-sex marriage, and eventually they will need Congress or the Supreme Court to embrace their goal. For the moment, though, they are jubilantly channeling the lyrics of "New York, New York."
"Now that we've made it here, we'll make it everywhere," said prominent activist Evan Wolfson, who took up the cause of marriage equality as a law student three decades ago.
With a historic vote by its Legislature late Friday, New York became the sixth — and by far the most populous — state to legalize same-sex marriage since Massachusetts led the way, under court order, in 2004.
With the new law, which takes effect after 30 days, the number of Americans in same-sex marriage states more than doubles. New York's population of 19 million surpasses the combined total of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia.
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The outcome — a product of intensive lobbying by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo — will have nationwide repercussions. Activists hope the New York vote will help convince judges and politicians across the country, including a hesitant President Obama, that support of same-sex marriage is now a mainstream viewpoint and a winning political stance.
"New York sends the message that marriage equality across the country is a question of 'when,' not 'if,'" said Fred Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said the goal is attainable by 2020, or sooner, "if we do the work and keep making the case."
The work — as envisioned by leading activists — is a three-pronged strategy unfolding at the state level, in dealings with Congress and the Obama administration, and in the courts where several challenges to the federal ban on gay marriage are pending.
"This will be a big boost to our efforts nationally," said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights. "It will help in the pending court cases to show that more states are adopting same-sex marriage, and it will help in the court of public opinion."
The New York bill cleared the Republican-controlled Senate by a 33-29 margin, thanks to crucial support from four GOP senators who joined all but one Democrat in voting yes.