Gay marriage rights received final approval Friday night from the State Legislature after weeks of intrigue and marathon protests, in an emotional debate that tested the religious and political limits for many state lawmakers.
New York will become the sixth, and largest, state to legalize same-sex marriages when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, as promised, signs the bill.
Advocates said the vote by the largest state to approve same-sex marriage will boost efforts nationwide, while foes were vowing political consequences for the GOP-led Senate and lawsuits to try to block the measure's enactment.
In a showdown vote in the State Senate, which only two years ago handily rejected same-sex marriage, the measure passed 33-29 when two Republican senators -- including Buffalo freshman Sen. Mark Grisanti -- switched long-held opposition to support in a dramatic Friday night session to give the bill two more votes than needed in the 62-member chamber.
Grisanti, to the applause of spectators in the gallery, said he had reversed course in a clash between his beliefs as a Catholic and his professional insights as a lawyer.
"I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage," said Grisanti, who noted his years of opposition and campaign vows to oppose gay marriage.
"To those whose support I may lose, please know in the past I was telling you what I believed at that time was the truth," Grisanti said.
"I struggled with this immensely," he added.
In the end, though, he said, "I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, people of my district [and] across this state the same rights I have with my wife."
The legislation, already approved in the Assembly, was assured when a Hudson Valley Republican senator shortly after debate began at 9:30 p.m. in a packed Senate chamber said he was changing his opposition after additional assurances for religious organization protections.
"I'm certainly at peace with my vote. It was a struggle," said Sen. Steve Saland of Dutchess County.
Soon after, Grisanti rose, apologized to "those who feel offended," and briefly laid out his yes-vote reasoning.
Grisanti was joined by Sen. Timothy Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, as Western New York lawyers voting for the bill.
Advocates camped out all day in seats overlooking the ornate Senate chamber and protesters on both sides verbally clashed in the halls outside as the handful of undecided senators wrestled into the evening on how they would vote.
The Assembly already approved the rights for same-sex couples to marry, and Cuomo, whose progressive roots were challenged by the liberal base of his Democratic Party after this year's state budget cuts, made its passage one of his top end-of-session priorities.
Just hours before a scheduled vote, amendments were released to further protect religious organizations from gay marriage mandates.
The amendments included a "severability" clause that nullifies all sections of the bill if any provisions are ruled illegal in court action, such as its religious protections.
The changes did nothing to end the opposition of some religious groups, whose members filled some Capitol hallways trying one last time to kill the bill. They also argued that the law will affect private individuals and groups who oppose gay marriage but could be subject to discrimination laws for refusing to provide everything from floral to photography services for gay couples seeking to wed.
"Marriage has always been, is now and always will be the union of one man and one woman in lifelong, life-giving union. Government does not have the authority to change this most basic of truths," the New York State Catholic Conference said in a statement.
Proponents said the gay marriage bill promotes family life while protecting religious organizations that do not want to perform gay ceremonies.
"The legislation strikes an appropriate balance that allows all loving, committed couples to marry while preserving religious freedom," New Yorkers United for Marriage, a gay rights umbrella group, said shortly before the vote.
Until late Friday afternoon, no one could say with certainty that there would be a vote in the Senate, which has been the focus of attention the past two weeks since five senators -- including two Republicans -- switched their positions and announced their support of same-sex marriage rights.
For two weeks, the bill has been one vote shy of the needed votes in the 62-member Senate. The bill died two years ago on the Senate floor.
Once signed by Cuomo, the measure will become law after 30 days.
"A measure that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex," states the first section of the gay marriage bill.
The legislation also provides a clear legislative intent: "Marriage is a fundamental human right."
As the vote drew near, protesters -- students, tea party regulars, evangelical ministers, gay couples and young and old residents -- counter-chanted under the watchful eye of police as a long line of people stretched down the fourth floor filled with hopeful spectators trying to get a seat in the packed Senate chamber for the vote.
Gay marriage advocates said the approval will have far-reaching implications.
"Obviously, it's tremendous for the New York families and loving, committed couples, but it's also very important to the movement," said Brian Ellner of the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, which has been pressing for gay marriage rights around the world.
"It will impact the legislative and judicial movements to secure marriage equality," Ellner said.
Gay marriage already is permitted in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Iowa, as well as Washington, D.C. Canada also legalized same-sex marriages.