by editor | 23rd July 2011 10:00 pm
Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples, from retirees in Woodstock to college students in Manhattan, rushed to tiny town halls and big city clerks’ offices across New York to wed in the first hours of legal same-sex marriage on Sunday, turning a slumbering summer day into an emotional celebration.
They arrived by subway cars and stretch limousines, with children and with grandparents, in matching sequined ties and pinstriped suits, to utter words that once seemed unimaginable: I do.
“We feel a little more human today,” Ray Durand, 68, said moments after marrying his partner, Dale Shields, 79, whom he met 42 years ago by a jukebox in a West Village bar.
The start of same-sex marriage in New York instantly doubled the number of Americans who live in states where gay and lesbian couples can wed. Gay-rights advocates, energized by their victory in New York — the sixth and largest state where it is allowed — are turning their attention next to Maryland, but they face long odds in much of the country, where there are tougher legal and political obstacles.
Several thousand people rallied in Midtown Manhattan to protest the new law, waving signs that said “God cannot be mocked” and calling for a public referendum on same-sex marriage. Their cries were echoed by smaller crowds in a few cities upstate.
“Today, we start the war,” State Senator Ruben Díaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat, declared.
Despite the demonstrations, long lines and bureaucratic glitches, a spirit of patience and good humor pervaded. In Lower Manhattan, brides and grooms defiantly opened dozens of rainbow-colored umbrellas to block the protesters from view.
There were scenes, too, of striking public embrace. Outside marriage bureaus, police officers offered unsolicited congratulations, passers-by honked their horns and strangers tossed hand-made confetti at the newlyweds.
After a bruising multiyear legislative battle that ended when the State Senate approved same-sex marriage last month by a narrow margin, some of the state’s top elected officials seemed determined on Sunday to demonstrate public support for the new law.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hosted a party for same-sex marriage advocates in Manhattan, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presided at a wedding in the backyard of Gracie Mansion, and the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, visited marriage bureaus in several boroughs.
The bulk of the day’s marriages took place in New York City, where 659 couples picked up licenses and 484 wed at city marriage bureaus: 293 in Manhattan, 66 in Queens, 66 in Brooklyn, 32 on Staten Island and 27 in the Bronx. Most were New York residents, but 107 of those who married in the city had arrived from other states, mostly those, like California and Alabama, where same-sex marriage is not legal.
But even far from Manhattan, city and town offices opened their doors on a day when they would ordinarily have been closed, sometimes just for a handful of weddings. Binghamton had five; Buffalo and Syracuse, eight.
In Shandaken, a town of 3,100 in the Catskills, the town clerk issued just one marriage license, to a New Jersey couple: Katie Morgan, 37, a freelance television producer, and Brooke Barnett, 30, a wine consultant, who have a weekend home in Shandaken.
Three communities — Niagara Falls, Albany and Hudson — were so eager to marry gays and lesbians that began to do so shortly before midnight.
At 12:01 a.m., with the roaring waters of Niagara Falls behind him, a tuxedo-clad Mayor Paul A. Dyster officiated at the wedding of Kitty Lambert, 54, and Cheryle Rudd, 53, who have been together since they met while working at a paper goods company in Arizona 12 years ago. They have spent 11 of those years engaged, waiting for New York to rewrite its marriage laws.
On Saturday night, Ms. Rudd nonetheless experienced last-minute jitters — and the unique burdens of an outdoor marriage just a few feet from a giant cascade. Moments before the ceremony was to begin, a mishap involving a sink in a public bathroom left Ms. Rudd’s tuxedo jacket drenched with water. Ms. Lambert quickly improvised, placing it under a hand dryer.
“The best part of my life with Cheryle,” Ms. Lambert said, “is that everything has been an adventure.”
Many of the newly married had already sought every legal protection and held any symbolic ceremony available to same-sex couples. But it was never sufficient, they said. They wanted to marry, just like their parents and friends had.
Jim Consolantis, 62, and Joseph Oroza, 58, had conducted their own wedding ceremony three decades ago in the back of a church, exchanging vows and Cartier rings. At the Manhattan marriage bureau on Sunday, they did it again, this time in the eyes of the state.
“This is the legal affirmation of what we vowed 31 years ago,” Mr. Oroza said.
Across the state, judges, families, friends and even the couples themselves grappled with the uncertain etiquette and evolving lexicon of same-sex marriage. In Manhattan, Alisa Fuentes, a clerk, paused as she reached the end of a wedding service and declared, “I pronounce you married.”
“I was going to say ‘husband and husband,’ ” she explained. “But we decided to just say ‘married.’ ”
There were flashes of showmanship and swagger. In Albany, Dale Getto and Barbara Laven, both 53, rented a white Cadillac Escalade limousine to ferry them to their wedding at City Hall. “Don’t hold that against us,” Ms. Laven said.
This being New York, entrepreneurs flooded the marriage bureaus. In Manhattan, the clerk’s office prominently displayed a range of same-sex marriage paraphernalia: rainbow-colored bouquets, mugs featuring two men or two women and pairs of male and female rubber ducks with matching tuxedos and gowns. A few feet away, a young videographer offered to film weddings, advertising a same-sex marriage discount: $50 for heterosexuals, $30 for gays. “It’s reverse discrimination,” she acknowledged.
By 5 p.m., the metal barricades had been cleared from outside the marriage bureau on Worth Street, and a slow-moving sanitation truck began to scoop up the confetti.
The last wedding of the day, a security guard informed a small group of lingering spectators, was over.
At 5:40 p.m., Andy Berg, 41, and Dominic Pisciotta, 39, walked out of the building, their son standing between them. They had a reason for being last.
Mr. Pisciotta, an employee at the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, had been at the clerk’s office since 7 a.m., ensuring that those who had registered to marry online made it down the aisle. “It was a nice way to finish my work,” he said.
The men had not planned on marrying on Day 1, Mr. Pisciotta said, but their young children had been insistent.
“We’ve been waiting for this,” said their 8-year-old son, Spencer Berg-Pisciotta, “since we were, like, 4 or 5.”
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