NY state governor introduces gay marriage bill

NEW YORK Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:36pm BST

1 of 2. A couple display their wedding rings after exchanging wedding vows at City Hall on the first full day of legal same-sex marriages in San Francisco, California June 17, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Erin Siegal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Gov. David Paterson on Thursday introduced a bill to allow gay marriage in the state, likening the effort to civil rights struggles and brushing aside objections from religious leaders.

If the bill becomes law, New York will follow Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa in legalizing gay marriage, but the effort is expected to face resistance in the state Senate.

"Anyone that has ever experienced degradation or intolerance would understand the solemn duty and how important it actually is," Paterson, the state's first black governor, told a news conference in Manhattan.

"This is a civil rights issue. Civil rights don't wait for the right time," he said. Paterson was accompanied by city and state leaders, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Gay marriage has broad support in the Democratic-controlled New York lower house, the Assembly, where it passed in a 85 to 61 vote in 2007. It was not put to a vote in the state Senate.

The bill is again expected to be passed in the Assembly. In the Senate Democrats hold a majority for the first time in more than 40 years, but it is slim -- 32 to 30 -- and at least one Democrat has said he opposes the measure.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire and Maine, which offer same-sex couples some form of legal recognition, also are weighing bills to allow gay marriage.

California briefly recognized gay marriage until voters banned it in a referendum last year.

Forty-three U.S. states have laws explicitly prohibiting gay marriage, including 29 with constitutional amendments restricting marriage to one man and one woman.

The New York governor's announcement comes the day after the installation of the new Catholic Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, who is a strong opponent of gay marriage.

Paterson, who said he was christened a Catholic, said gay marriage is the "right way" from a spiritual standpoint.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and David Storey)