New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo has pledged to make gay marriage a “priority,” if elected in the fall, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“It's a priority,” Cuomo told a reporter Thursday.

The 52-year-old Democrat went on to say he believed the Legislature could approve a gay marriage bill in 2011.

Passage of a gay marriage bill was a top priority for outgoing Governor David Paterson, a Democrat. But despite his pleas for passage, senators voted down the bill in a 38 to 24 vote last December. Eight Senate Democrats crossed the aisle to join all Republicans in voting against the measure after the Democrat-controlled Assembly voted in favor. Shortly afterward, New Jersey lawmakers rejected a similar bill.

Cuomo's stand on gay marriage has evolved since his 2002 campaign for governor, when he supported recognizing gay couples with civil unions. He endorsed full marriage equality in 2006.

Gay activists say they're encouraged by Cuomo's comments.

“To me, that's extremely encouraging,” Ethan Geto told the paper. “For the guy to say it's a priority and then for him to say he may very well be able to get it done in his first year, it's terrific.”

Paterson has ordered state agencies to recognize legal gay marriages performed elsewhere. But obstacles remain, including the Senate's recent rejection of a bill that would allow married gay couples to file joint state tax returns. Neighboring Connecticut, Vermont and Canada offer the institution.