New York played influential role in helping fuel gay marriage momentum

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NEW YORK -- "We have hit a landmark event in the unfolding story of the lesbian gay rights movement," said Arthur Leonard, a renowned law professor at New York Law School.

Leonard is also husband to Tim. They have been together since 1979 and a married couple since 2009. In fact, Leonard says that 36 years ago the couple never thought about gay marriage.

"What we thought about at first was getting the landlord to agree to put his name on my lease," he recalled.

"Things have evolved at an incredible rate," Leonard added.

In fact, Friday's historic ruling -- a landmark not only for a movement but for the nation -- is one that Leonard admits he thought he would never see.

"I hadn't in my lifetime thought that we would see same-sex marriage and I'm absolutely delighted that we are beating the schedule," he said.

And the reasons for this? Because of what the Empire State had seen and experienced for decades, according to Leonard.

"We had some very crucial court decisions here in New York in the early seventies holding that being gay was not a disqualification to being a lawyer," he said.

Leonard has been a champion for the gay rights movement for more than 30 years. Investing time and effort that not only impacted New York but also had an effect in other states. However, as rainbow flags waved proudly around the West Village, things were not always as colorful as they are today when it came to sexual equality.

"We had litigation on same sex marriage in the last decade, which unfortunately failed but that really provided the impetus for the political process to get underway and to our marriage equality law in 2011," Leonard said.

It was a law that had support from the political as well as the corporate sector. In 2011, the Michael Kors store on Bleeker Street had same-sex marriage cakes in its window in support to New York's historic vote that served more as a progressive beacon. Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed New Yorkers at the time saying, "I believe that New York has sent a message to this nation, loud and clear, it is time for marriage equality all across this country."

Fours years later, it became just that.

President Barack Obama on Friday spoke to the nation after the historic ruling about the freedom of those who were viewed differently prior to the decision.

"When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free," he said.

Leonard said as the LGBT continues to thrive in the city, the state still has work to do.

"There are things that New York has not done which it should do and it is in fact allowing some other states to get out in front of us," he said.

In particular, one group that has come much more into focus of late, thanks in part to an Olympic champion who grew up north of the city in Westchester -- Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce.

"New York still has not legislated to protect transgender people from discrimination and New York has has some steps to take to protect some people from harassment based on sexual orientation in the schools, so we have some things to accomplish here in New York," Leonard said.