The remarkable and encouraging step by New York in becoming the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage gives gays and lesbians the same right as everyone else to form legally secure families with the person they love. This ground-breaking legislative effort was pulled back from the brink of defeat by Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and four Republicans who bucked their party to stand with all but one Democrat in the state Senate. While Florida passed a constitutional amendment in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage, the nation is becoming more enlightened, and this state will face economic consequences down the road for its official intolerance.
The tide of public opinion is turning. The latest polls say that 53 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, and a recent Gallup Poll found 70 percent of 18- to- 34-year-olds in support, compared to only 39 percent among those 55 and older. The age divide means a huge segment of the population will soon think extending marriage rights to gays is a matter of basic fairness. President Barack Obama and Congress have repealed "don't ask, don't tell," the military's ban on gay service members, and the administration is refusing to defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Americans have come to understand how similar the families of gay couples are to their own, and that the children of gay couples deserve to grow up with married parents legally responsible for their welfare. People have also come to appreciate how fundamentally unfair it is to deny gay couples the many benefits — from health insurance to inheritance rights — that are contingent on marriage.
The political battle in New York shows that even in a divided state legislature where the state Senate is narrowly controlled by Republicans, marriage equality has a chance. In a brilliant campaign executed by Cuomo, big-dollar, pro-gay rights Republican donors promised support for Republican senators willing to go out on a political limb. And the fears of religious institutions and the nonprofits associated with them were allayed by explicitly declaring in the statute that religious institutions do not have to perform same-sex marriages or have such nuptials or celebrations in their buildings. That is a reasonable concession that affirms religious freedom, and it provides a road map for other states.
That won't help Florida without another constitutional amendment. Voters passed the constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, making it extremely difficult to adopt similar reforms. This is going to be an anchor around the state's wallet. Over time, as other states embrace marriage equality, it will be harder to lure businesses to Florida or keep them here. Married gay executives won't want to relocate to where their family's legal status is nullified. But for now, New York deserves the accolades for living up to the nation's promise of equality under the law.