In one sense, the most immediate impact of the New York legislation, beyond the obvious fact that more gays will now marry, is the way the 10 days of political wrangling in Albany came to a head over nearly intractable issues of religious liberty. While Chemerinsky told TIME that the furor was in some ways overblown — “No religion has to marry anyone it does not want to marry. I think that this was a misleading argument,” he says — other scholars who have followed the debate for years say there’s no denying that expanding gay rights so quickly has created real tensions between laws protecting the freedom of conscience and the newer protections for gays and lesbians.
Gay marriage isn’t the first issue to do so, but it’s likely to be the most fought over. No one is arguing that the Catholic Church, or any church, must marry a gay couple — and the protections written into law in New York saying so were probably redundant. But the New York law went further than merely restating the constitutionally obvious. It also wrote into law the right for all religious institutions — hospitals, adoption services — and so-called benevolent organizations to refuse to not just marry gay couples but the right to refuse accommodating their weddings, too. For gay couples in New York, good luck finding a Knight of Columbus hall to rent, for instance.