Hundreds of same-sex couples say 'I do' in New York

Sunday was the first day gay couples could be legally married in New York. Hundreds lined up to say "I do." New York brings to six the number of states where such marriages can be performed.

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    Norma Virola (l.) and Crystal Gonzalez (r.) wait in line with their family for a marriage license early Sunday morning in front of the Manhattan Office of the City Clerk. Clerk's offices in New York held special hours to accommodate over 800 couples who applied early to be among the first to wed under New York State's Marriage Equality Act which went into effect July 24.
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    Carol Anastasio (L) and Mimi Brown of New York embrace during their marriage ceremony at the City Clerk's office in New York Sunday, July 24. Thousands of gay and lesbian New Yorkers are getting ready to say "I do" as the Empire State becomes the sixth in the U.S. to embrace same-sex marriage.
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In New York City, hundreds of jubilant same-sex couples waited in long lines for a chance to be married on Sunday, the first day that gay partners could officially wed in the nation’s latest and most populous state to legalize gay marriage.

“It symbolizes equality. But it also symbolizes that this is about love and families, as much as it is about laws,” Greg Payton said before walking hand-in-hand into the City Clerk’s office in Brooklyn with his fiancé, Robert Lafferty.

Sunday marked the nine-year anniversary of the day the two men met. Shortly before noon, it became their wedding day.

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The Marriage Equality Act was passed and signed on June 24, but did not go into effect until Sunday. The law adds New York to the list of five other states that permit same-sex marriages: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

Forty-one other states prohibit gay marriage, through laws or constitutional amendments that reserve the right to wed for opposite-sex couples, according to a count by the Human Rights Campaign.

New York City organized an online lottery earlier in the week for couples to reserve spots at the City Clerk’s offices, which grants marriage licenses and can perform civil marriage ceremonies. By the close of the lottery on Thursday, 823 couples had applied for 764 spots.

Soon after, the city announced that all 823 applicant couples could wed on Sunday, which would surpass the city’s previous single-day record of 621 marriages performed on Valentine’s Day 2003. More than 60 judges in the city and dozens of others around the state volunteered to sign forms Sunday to waive the required 24-hour waiting period between the issuance of a marriage license and the wedding ceremony.

Many gay couples hoping to wed on Sunday said they had been disappointed by the state legislature’s past failures to approve previous same-sex marriage bills, and were worried they would never become legal spouses.

“We’ve been let down so many times before,” said Rhonda Waldon, as she waited in line to marry her partner of 16 years, Kim Waldon.

Kim Waldon had her surname legally changed in 2005. In 2008, the women traveled to California to be married – only to be thwarted by Proposition 8, a ballot initiative passed that November, which made same-sex marriages unconstitutional in that state.

For the couple, Sunday represented a “new beginning.”

“It’s a day of empowerment,” said Rhonda Waldon. “It’s official now.”

One of the state legislators who voted for New York’s gay marriage law, Democratic Senator Tom Duane, stopped by the Manhattan clerk’s office Sunday morning to congratulate some of the more than 400 same-sex couples scheduled to wed there.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Mr. Duane, who posed for photos with his longtime partner, Louis Webre. “It just makes all of the hard work absolutely, totally worth it.”

The Republican-controlled Senate approved the bill by a vote of 33-29, with four Republicans and all but one Democrat in support. Until the final vote was held late on the night of June 24, it was unclear whether the bill would pass, or meet the same fate as the state’s previous gay marriage bills.

“I never thought this would be an option for me,” said Alfred Gonzales, as he waited outside the Manhattan Clerk’s office.

“We both thought we would die bachelors,” said his partner of 17 years, and soon-to-be-husband, Tom Allsup. Before they headed downtown, Mr. Allsup posted Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” on his Facebook page as an impromptu wedding announcement.

Many of Sunday’s newlyweds viewed the new law and their own marriages as an act of basic fairness.

“It’s just a matter of civil rights,” said Barbara Tremblay, before kissing her new wife, Stacey Minondo, on the steps of the Brooklyn Clerk’s office.

“They shouldn’t discriminate based on who you love,” said Ms. Tremblay, stirring cheers from a crowd of supporters waving signs.

In Manhattan, Jeannette Marquez made a similar argument.

“We pay the same taxes and we have families we need to protect,” Ms. Marquez said, standing next to her fiancé, Kerry Jardine. “And we’re crazy about each other.”

Several couples said the success of the gay marriage law this year reflects growing public support for same-sex matrimony. That notion is backed by recent, nationwide polls, such as a Gallup poll in May that showed 53 percent of Americans support legalized same-sex marriage – the first majority Gallup ever recorded on the issue.

Still, approval for same-sex marriage is far from universal. At least two groups staged protests Sunday: the Westboro Baptist Church, from Topeka, Kansas, and the National Organization for Marriage, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

“It doesn’t matter if all 10 million New Yorkers hold hands and agree, God still hates same-sex marriage,” said Margie Phelps of the Westboro group, during a protest outside the Brooklyn Clerk’s office.

Elsewhere in the city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg acted as an officiant for the wedding of two staffers from his office, and Governor Andrew Cuomo hosted a reception for gay rights groups. Both men offered strong support of the bill, with Mr. Cuomo’s advocacy in particular widely cited as key to the law’s success.

In Brooklyn, a low-key couple in khaki pants and polo shirts strolled out of the municipal building Sunday morning without attracting the attention of the crowd of onlookers or the small army of reporters. They were the first gay couple to be married in Brooklyn.

“This will be part of history,” said Bobby Amagna. His new husband, and 18-year partner, Michael Furey, noted that the judge who conducted their marriage ceremony cried afterwards.

“We will be dead, but this will still be on the History Channel,” said Mr. Amagna. Mr. Furey laughed, then said he hoped that day was still a long way off.

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