New York Senator Charles Schumer announced Monday that his opinion on gay and lesbian unions has changed. He said he now supports gay marriage and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

According to a press release issued by Empire State Pride Agenda, a group that lobbies for passage of gay marriage in the Empire State, Schumer expressed his support for gay marriage at a Manhattan meeting on Sunday attended by New York GLBT elected officials and leaders of the city's largest gay rights organizations.

Schumer had previously supported civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. While civil unions offer many of the benefits and obligations of marriage, they remain watered-down versions of marriage.

“[E]quality is something that has always been a hallmark of America,” the Senator said in a statement to the New York Daily News.

“I want to thank Sen. Schumer for his support of marriage equality and the repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, said in a statement. “Like a majority of New Yorkers, Sen. Schumer recognizes that only marriage equality provides same sex couples the status, protections and rights afforded to all other Americans. We look forward to working with him to win marriage equality in New York State and around the country.”

Schumer's endorsement of gay marriage comes nearly two months after New York Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand offered hers. The state's governor, David Paterson, chose Gillibrand to replace Senator Hillary Clinton after she was appointed by President Obama to head the State Dept.

Last year, neither Schumer nor Clinton backed gay marriage. Additionally as Vice Chair of the U.S. Senate's Democratic Conference, Schumer becomes the highest ranking member of the Senate to endorse marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Activists were hopeful state Senate leaders would pass a gay marriage bill this year, but Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith admitted during a Human Rights Campaign fundraiser last month that he does not have the votes to pass such a bill.