After 15 years of bitterness and debate, the New York City Council passed a gay rights bill Thursday.
Cardinal John J. O'Connor promptly denounced the council's decision and pledged to try to determine through legal action if its effects could be reversed.
Cheers sounded in the City Council's chamber and among supporters outside City Hall, many of whom had kept an all-night vigil, when the measure was adopted by a 21-14 vote. As word of the adoption spread, hundreds of cheering gays poured into the streets of Greenwich Village.
The bill, which goes to Mayor Edward I. Koch for his signature, bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Violations carry a maximum penalty of $500 and a year in jail.
Even though New York has the nation's largest homosexual population, it was the 51st city in the nation to pass anti-sexual discrimination legislation, said Ron Najman, an official of the National Gay Task Force.
"Their conscience must have told them they were doing the right thing," said Councilman Sam Horowitz as the votes were counted. "I feel great. It was a hard fight."
Councilman Stephen Dibrienza said that he voted for the measure in memory of a friend who was an AIDS victim.
Immediately after the City Council's decision, Cardinal O'Connor, issued a statement.
"We know many New Yorkers share our feelings of deep regret over the passage," he said. "We will seek legal counsel to determine what steps may be taken to reverse this action of the City Council."
The bill's origins can be traced to a 1969 police raid on the Stonewall, a gay bar. The raid set off violent street demonstrations and helped strengthen New York's gay rights movement. Two years later, a gay rights bill was proposed, but it was largely ignored. Last week, for the first time since 1974, when it was defeated in the full council by a 22-19 vote, a committee cleared the measure.
Koch, who has announced that he will sign the bill, said Thursday "for a brief period of time (after it has been law), the opponents will realize that their fears were unwarranted"
Councilman Noach Dear, who represents an Orthodox Jewish section of the city and voted against the measure, called its passage "a catastrophe for our beloved city. We are in the initial stages of an insidious crusade, but we had all better recognize it for what it is."
Koch said the measure "isn't going to change life styles, isn't going to change the city."
"It is simply civil rights legislation . . . giving people protection so that your personal sexual life, whether you're heterosexual or homosexual, will no longer be a factor in your getting a job or renting an apartment or going to a restaurant or a theater or any public place of accommodation."
Andrew Humm, head of the Coalition of Gay and Lesbian Rights, said, "I think it's a victory for the city. This is a bill that benefits everybody. It lets gays be gay and straight people be straight people.
"I hope the more strident opponents of the bill . . . will give this bill a chance."