In a 33-29 vote, the New York State Senate has passed the legalization of gay marriage, the first for a Republican-controlled Senate

New York is now the largest state where gay and lesbian couple can wed, giving the national gay-rights movement a great shove forward. The same-sex marriage bill was approved 33-29, as four Republican senators joined 29 Democrats in voting for the bill.

The Senate galleries, packed to the brim with supporter and opponents alike, forced fire marshals to close them off. And along the Great Western Staircase, outside the Senate chamber, about 100 demonstrators chanted, cheered and waved flags.

The same-sex marriage legislation was approved by the Assembly last week; the Senate was the final hurdle.

Aiding in clearing that hurdle were provisions made to the gay marriage bill that would shield religious organizations that refuse to recognize gay marriage, overcoming a central obstacle to the bill getting the vote Friday night, and appeasing to many of the bill's former opponents.The bill moved to the Senate floor after legislative leaders came to an agreement on those.

The question of exemptions for religious organizations had emerged as the main impasse in securing a floor vote for the legislation, although the prospects of a vote occurring remained unclear as Senate Republicans continued to discuss the bill in a closed-door meeting. Two Republican senators and all but one Democrat have proclaimed their support for the bill, leaving the measure one vote short of passage. The Democratic-controlled Assembly passed its version of the bill last week.

The entire Senate Republican Conference was insistent that amendments be made to the Governor's original bill in order to protect the rights of religious institutions and not-for-profits with religious affiliations. I appreciate the Governor's cooperation in working with us to address these important issues and concerns, Skelos said.

Republican senators had expressed reservations that religious organizations would face legal action if they refused to provide services to same-sex married couples, from clergy declining to oversee marriages to religiously affiliated charities balking at allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

Supporters of the bill who are anxious to get a vote expressed frustration earlier Friday, saying that Republican lawmakers have been stalling and obstructing the democratic process.

Gay rights supporters have secured legal marriage status in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and the District of Columbia.