New York Governor David Paterson introduced gay marriage legislation Thursday that would make the state the fifth -- and the highest profile -- to allow same-sex couples to wed.
"I'm introducing a bill to bring marriage equality to the state of New York," Paterson said in an announcement carried live on television.
"We have an honor and a duty to make sure that equality exists for everyone," he said.
However it remained far from certain that the law would overcome opposition in the state legislature. The same bill was rejected in 2007.
Paterson, who is the state's first black governor, compared the issue to the "wrath" of racial, gender and religious discrimination.
"We stand to tell the world that we want equality for everyone. We stand to tell the world that we want marriage equality," he said.
The initiative comes on the heels of similar laws being passed in Vermont last week, and previously in Connecticut, Iowa and Massachusetts.
"We come to this with the wind at our backs," Paterson said, adding that the latest events "give us the feeling that we can be effective."
The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex weddings, urged New Yorkers to write protest letters to their representatives.
"Now is the time to send a message to New York legislators: In the midst of the biggest economic crisis in generations, now is not the time to be messing with marriage. Get back to work," the organization said on its website.
New York has a substantial and outspoken homosexual community and the state would make a powerful standard bearer on the issue if Paterson's law passes.
There was no immediate indication of when a vote might be taken on the law.
In 2007, the gay marriage bill passed in New York's lower house, but failed in the then-Republican led upper chamber. Democrats now have a slim majority in the upper house, but observers say that may still not be enough.
Gay rights activist Roberta Sklar welcomed Paterson's initiative.
"Now the work of getting all the necessary votes in the state senate begins. Supporters of equality in marriage are ready for this work and with the governor's support we are optimistic," she said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is running for re-election, gave his strong support.
"It is clear that the tide is turning," he said, standing alongside Paterson.
However, same-sex marriage battles have been close fought even in states eventually giving the green light.
The decision in Vermont last week came only after the Democratic-led assembly dramatically overrode a veto by the Republican governor.
Lawmakers just scraped together the two-thirds majority needed to push through the measure.
California, meanwhile, remains locked in a bitter legal battle between pro- and anti-gay marriage camps.
The Supreme Court in San Francisco legalized gay marriage in a landmark ruling last May, but in November voters passed a change to California's constitution that redefined marriage as a union between a man and woman.
In addition to the four states allowing same-sex marriage, nine others grant some of the legal benefits of marriage to gay couples through civil unions or domestic partnership laws.
A poll released this month by Quinnipiac University found that most voters in New York state oppose formal marriage for homosexuals, although many support allowing some form of legal union.
According to the poll, 41% are in favor, but 19% oppose any legal recognition of gay unions, and 33% say that only civil unions should be allowed.© Wire reports