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Pace picks up in push to legalize same-sex marriage in state Cuomo, celebrities highlight campaign

Lady Gaga on stage on Long Island this weekend; actors Kevin Bacon, Julianne Moore and Kyra Sedgwick on video; and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Albany are headliners in New York's growing push to legalize gay marriage, a fight that may already be won because of shifting voter sentiment and a concerted, disciplined campaign.

New Yorkers opposed to gay marriage are being swamped by younger people who support it, while polls seem to show a new tactic by advocates is working in the suburbs and upstate, the more conservative region where the issue will be won or lost.

Five states -- New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa and Massachusetts -- plus the District of Columbia have approved gay marriage laws. New York has always been a goal of advocates because of its size, high profile and unparalleled media presence.

"A win in New York will provide significant momentum for the movement nationally and, quite frankly, internationally," said Brian Ellner of the Human Rights Campaign, working for same-sex marriage. "New York is very significant."

The organized effort under Cuomo is a turnaround from the surprising 2009 defeat in the State Senate, which fell eight votes short of passage in the 62-seat chamber after strong approval in the Assembly. Back then, advocacy groups operated more independently, sometimes alienating as many lawmakers and their constituents as they won over.

But those votes were just a prologue to today, said Bruce Gyory, a political science professor at the University at Albany who analyzes voter trends.

Despite the outcome in 2009, the debate demonstrated some of the Legislature's greatest displays of eloquence -- personal stories of sons and daughters denied the joys and rights of marriage -- and did what is rare in Albany: It changed votes.

"In my view, that wasn't an isolated phenomenon," Gyory said. "That debate has been replicated hundreds and thousands of times over the Internet, e-mails and coffee klatches, and over glasses of wine in New York's suburbs that has rapidly changed -- at an accelerated pace -- public opinion."

In New York, the Siena College poll this month found a new high for support -- 58 percent. The poll showed reliable voters 55 and older were divided on the issue, not strongly opposed, and that the influential independent vote favored same-sex marriage. On April 14, a Quinnipiac University poll found opposition continued to fall toward 30 percent.

"This is an important issue for the administration, and the governor is committed to working with New Yorkers to get the marriage equality legislation passed," said Richard Bamberger, a Cuomo spokesman.

That drew some rare public criticism of the powerful Democrat. Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx minister, said the new effort made its first mistake.

"I am deeply offended that during this Holy Week, which is a most sacred time to millions of New Yorkers, Gov. Cuomo is working hard to mobilize elected officials to legalize homosexual marriage," Diaz said of the announcement made in the New York Times between Passover and Easter to promote "a radical agenda."

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