I'm less interested in getting all misty over the "historic"-ness of the gay marriage vote than I am in pointing out that, as a practical matter, this was going to happen at some point, and now was as good as later. It's absurd to think that states across the northeast had made significant progress on rights for gay couples but the state on the East Coast with the most gay people - arguably the largest concentration of gays in the country, and possibly the continent - couldn't get a marriage bill passed.
Of course, that same state couldn't elect a woman to statewide office until Hillary Clinton, but never mind, the point is similar: When we move in New York, we really move.
(A quick hint to all you gals planning weddings in the NYC area: you might want to book all your services now, because finding a caterer and flowers and a cake is going to be hell in about 6 months.)
It's easy to say that gay marriage happened because gay people finally spoke up, but mostly it happened the way gay rights happened: some concentrated expressions of anger combined with a good deal of behind the scenes maneuvering. Gay people tend to assume we do best when there's a large concentration of liberals (read: Democrats) to help effect our agenda; the reality is we do better, generally, when we don't count too much on the kindness of one side, but work a much broader, practical kind of appeal across party lines. Not every Democrat is our friend. Not every Republican is our enemy.
The New York Times has an interesting breakdown of the road to gay marriage passing the New York State Senate (and it's so interesting I'm going to go ahead and link to it, even while bemoaning their pay plan), and it's clear that, as a practical matter, passage of the bill had a lot to do with backroom maneuvering and deal cutting. But it also had a lot to do with simple humanity - rather than thanking gay activists overall, we might do better thanking Sandra Lee's brother and Dorothy Turano's nephew:
Over time, however, championing same-sex marriage had become personal for Mr. Cuomo. He campaigned on the issue in the race for governor last year, and after his election, he was staggered by the number of gay couples who sought him out at restaurants and on the street, prodding him, sometimes tearfully, to deliver on his word.
The pressure did not let up at home. Mr. Cuomo’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee, has an openly gay brother, and she frequently reminded the governor how much she wanted the law to change....
Nobody ever expected Carl Kruger to vote yes.
... But unbeknown to all but a few people, Mr. Kruger desperately wanted to change his vote. The issue, it turned out, was tearing apart his household.
The gay nephew of the woman he lives with, Dorothy Turano, was so furious at Mr. Kruger for opposing same-sex marriage two years ago that he had cut off contact with both of them, devastating Ms. Turano. “I don’t need this,” Mr. Kruger told Senator John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democratic majority leader. “It has gotten personal now.”
In the end, gay rights battles come down to this kind of awareness; it's harder to hate people when they are people you know rather than people you think of in the abstract. Gay visibility has always been the trump card. And the fact that "gay marriage" to gay people was not an abstraction, not some "nice to have" but more a practical concern of couples in long term relationships, went a long way to making this issue about concrete issues, not vague, feelgood hugs from the larger world. We don't have to make all the straight people like us; we do deserve to be treated fairly.
It matters too that opposition to marriage rights has pretty much fallen apart. Howard Kurtz did a long segment on his CNN show today about "was the other side ignored" in the press... but what "other side"? The "marriage is one man and one woman" crowd? They weren't ignored... but mostly, they were nowhere to be seen. And that's because, in part, "defending marriage" has become visible nonsense. Maggie Gallagher, head of the National Organization for Marriage, is a prime example of this. As she piously (what a good word for her Catholic roots) insists on retribution for Republicans, the hollowness of the threat shines through. The alternative, for conservatives is to defeat Senators in primaries with even more extreme right candidates who, in most areas of New York State, will lose to moderate Democrats.
Gallagher's on the losing side, now, because she and those around her realized they had to soft pedal antigay rhetoric or risk being labeled simply as antigay bigots. It isn't that they hate gay people, they kept insisting, it's that they just wanted to defend marriage. From gay people. Who shouldn't be married... because there's something, well, wrong with being gay. Because if this is actually about "defending marriage" - something I, and even other gay people, have some interest in - then let's figure out what actually needs defending and discussion; like, say, easy divorce laws (which, let's point out, also matters here, since New York became the 50th state, last year, to allow no-fault divorce. Making it easier for straights to divorce than gays to marry).
As I said, rejecting that point of view isn't "historic"... it's inevitable. As hatred of gay people and talk of "dirty sinners" has been pushed into dark, ugly corners - where it will never entirely go away - the arguments against marriage for two people of the same gender simply fall apart. As those arguments fall apart, it becomes absurd not to extend marriage to same sex couples (not, let's say it together, to polygamists or animal lovers, or whatever other wild extreme one can dream up). A world with gay marriage doesn't look different, really, from the world we had yesterday, even on Gay Pride Day here in New York. This isn't the gay Promised Land most of us had in mind (for one thing, being stuck with 8-12 more years of Andrew Cuomo seems like an unreasonable condition of surrender). But yeah, it's pretty great that the bill got passed, by whatever means necessary. It kind of restores one's faith in humanity... and even leaves one with a sense of, well, Pride.