Gay rights advocates in New York celebrated what they called a watershed victory Tuesday as the state Assembly approved legislation to legalise same-sex marriage with an 85-61 vote.

Sponsored by the openly gay brother of entertainer Rosie O’Donnell and supported by Governor Eliot Spitzer, the approval came after an often emotional three-hour debate.

According to the Associated Press, despite the victory for supporters of the legislation, the bill is not expected to be acted on any time soon in the Republican-led state Senate.

During the debate, Manhattan Democrat Daniel O’Donnell told his colleagues that civil union, a process permitted in neighboring Vermont, wasn’t good enough.

“It will not provide equality for people like me,” he said, the AP reports.

Gay marriage has enjoyed support in Manhattan Assembly districts for years; passage of the bill hinged on votes from other members, some of whom conceded they were taking a political risk.

Polls show that slightly more New Yorkers oppose gay marriage than favour it, with opposition strongest among older residents, who are typically more likely to vote.

According to the New York Sun, lawmakers who were on the fence said they made up their minds after having conversations with constituents, religious leaders, and family members.

They said their choice was result of a push-and-pull between political considerations and personal feelings.

Assemblywoman Ann Margaret Carrozza, a Democrat who represents Bayside, Queens, where there are many conservative Catholic voters, voted for the bill and said she was not concerned about the political repercussions.

“In three to five years, this is going to be a non-issue,” she said.

With Governor Spitzer, a Democrat, strongly in favor of legalising gay marriage, the battle now shifts to the Senate, which has leaned leftward on a number of social issues in recent years but has shown little indication that it intends to follow the Assembly’s lead.

Even if Democrats take control of the Senate, which has a slim Republican majority, gay rights advocates say it could take years before a gay marriage bill arrives on the governor’s desk.

O’Donnell said he and his partner of 26 years, John Banta, director of special events for the American Ballet Theatre, were looking forward to the day when the measure might be signed into law.

“We would get married tomorrow, if we could,” O’Donnell said to the AP.

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