Flanked by powerful political allies – including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and openly lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn – New York Governor David Paterson announced plans to introduce a gay marriage bill in the General Assembly.

Calling gay marriage a civil rights issue, Paterson, a Democrat, said he would re-introduce a gay marriage bill in Albany.

“I'm introducing a bill to bring marriage equality to the state of New York,” Paterson said to applause at a press conference in Manhattan this morning.

“I understand the trepidation and anxiety that people are feeling today. Rights should not be stifled by fear. What we should understand is that silence should not be a response to injustice. There is no gain without struggle. And that if we take no action, we will surely lose,” he said.

With approval ratings below 20 percent, the governor's gamble with gay rights comes on the heels of two gay marriage victories. Legislators in Vermont managed to override Governor Jim Douglas' promised veto on a gay marriage bill, making the inventor of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples the first state to endorse gay marriage legislatively, instead of by court order. And the seven-member Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down that state's gay marriage ban on April 3. The two victories effectively double the number of states offering gay marriage in the U.S.

“This is the most thrilling press conference I've ever been in,” Quinn told reporters. “We now have the governor of our state not saying 'I'm for this', which would be great, [but saying] 'I'm going to make this happen and 'I'm going to make it happen soon'.”

Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, a group that lobbies for gay marriage in New York, called Paterson the nation's most “effective and powerful advocate” on gay marriage.

But it might have been Van Capelle's remarks soon after Vermont's groundbreaking override veto that stirred the gay marriage pot in New York.

“We are thrilled that Vermont – another one of New York's neighbors – has passed a marriage equality bill through the state legislature,” Van Capelle said in a statement. “But I'm embarrassed for New York state.”

“We hope that our state Senate in New York will now look at three of the states that surround New York – Massachusetts, Connecticut and now Vermont – and realize that we are falling behind,” he added.

The next day, Paterson began talking about re-introducing a gay marriage bill. It is the same bill Assembly members approved and Republican Senate leaders blocked in 2007.

Democrats now lead in the Senate, but support remains unclear. State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith, a Democrat and gay marriage supporter, admitted during a Human Rights Campaign fundraiser in February that he does not have the votes to pass gay marriage in the Empire State. And Senator Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx and a gay marriage opponent, has already begun meeting with gay marriage opponents and religious leaders to discuss how to thwart passage of gay marriage in New York.