New York has joined the growing list of states that allow same-sex marriage. New York's Marriage Equality Act, signed into law Friday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, amends the state's Domestic Relations Law to say that a marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex.

The act ensures that same-sex couples have all the same legal rights, benefits and protections as different-sex couples, and prohibits the denial of marriage licenses on the ground that the parties are of the same or a different sex. "New York has finally torn down the barrier that has prevented same-sex couples from exercising the freedom to marry and from receiving the fundamental protections that so many couples and families take for granted," Cuomo said in a statement. "With this vote, marriage equality will become a reality in our state, delivering long overdue fairness and legal security to thousands of New Yorkers."

The act comes with an amendment that specifically protects religious institutions from being sued if they refuse to conduct a same-sex marriage. According to that amendment, no religious entity, benevolent organization or not-for-profit corporation that is operated, supervised or controlled by a religious entity, or their employees can be required to perform marriage ceremonies or provide their facilities for marriage ceremonies, consistent with their religious principles. "In addition, religious entities will not be subject to any legal action for refusing marriage ceremonies," said a press release from Cuomo's office. "The act will grant equal access to the government-created legal institution of civil marriage while leaving the religious institution of marriage to its own separate and fully autonomous sphere."

Along with New York, other states that allow same-sex marriage include Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). In 2008, California's Proposition 8 amended that state's constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, but in August 2010 a federal district judge blocked enforcement of Proposition 8, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection provisions. That case is still being appealed, so, for now, the state does not allow same-sex marriages to be performed, but marriages that were conducted before Proposition 8 are still considered valid, according to NCSL.

Rhode Island, New York and Maryland recognize same-sex marriages from other states, and Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey allow civil unions. However, more than half of states have passed Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMA) that define marriage as being between a man and a woman, according to NCSL.

Watch the video of Cuomo's press conference below and read the entire press release on New York's Marriage Equality Act. View the NCSL same-sex marriage/civil unions/domestic partnerships tracking page.

Watch live streaming video from newyorkstateofficeofthegovernor at

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