NEW YORK (AP) ― Hundreds of gay couples dressed in formal suits and striped trousers, gowns and T-shirts recited vows in emotion-choked voices and triumphantly hoisted their long-awaited marriage certificates on Sunday as New York became the sixth and largest U.S. state to recognize same-sex weddings.
Couples began saying “I do” at midnight from Niagara Falls to Long Island, though New York City became the sometimes raucous center of action by daybreak Sunday as couples waited on a sweltering day for the chance to exchange vows at the city clerk’s office.
Newly-wed gay couple along with their daughters hug each other on Sunday. (AFP-Yonhap News)
Thousands of protesters rallied in several cities around the state, a signal that the long fight for recognition may not be over just yet.
State Sen. Ruben Diaz, a minister who was the sole Democrat to vote against gay marriage when the Legislature approved it, told a crowd near the United Nations that he and other opponents would try to get Sunday’s marriages annulled, saying judges broke the law by waiving the 24-hour waiting period without a good reason.
“We’re going to show them next week that everything they did today was illegal,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “Today we start the battle! Today we start the war!”
But a party atmosphere reigned in the lobby of the Manhattan clerk’s office, with cheers and applause breaking out whenever a couple was handed their white-and-blue wedding certificate. Balloons floated overhead. One couple wore matching kilts; another wore sparkly crowns. Children scurried up and down the lobby; workers with bullhorns called out the numbers of each couple.
Poignant signs of pent-up emotion were common from couples who had in some cases waited for years to wed. Couples cried and voices quavered. Newlywed Douglas Robinson exclaimed, “You bet your life I do!” when asked if he would take Michael Elsasser as his spouse.
The first couple to marry in Manhattan were Phyllis Siegel, 77, and Connie Kopelov, 85, who have been together for 23 years. Kopelov arrived in a wheelchair and stood with the assistance of a walker. During the service, Siegel wrapped her hand in Kopelov’s hand and they both grasped the walker.
Witnesses cheered and wiped away tears after the two women vowed to honor and cherish each other as spouses and then kissed.
“I am breathless. I almost couldn’t breathe,” Siegel said after the ceremony. “It’s mind-boggling. The fact that it’s happening to us ― that we are finally legal and can do this like everyone else.”
Outside afterward, Siegel raised her arms exultantly as Kopelov, in the wheelchair, held out a marriage certificate.
New York’s adoption of legal same-sex marriage is viewed as a pivotal moment in the national gay rights movement and was expected to galvanize supporters and opponents alike. The state joined Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, along with Washington, D.C., when it voted last month to legalize gay marriage.
Protest rallies were carried out in Manhattan, Buffalo, Rochester and Albany on Sunday afternoon. Gay marriage opponents unhappy that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage last month are calling for a statewide referendum on the issue.
Several hundred people crowded into the street across from Cuomo’s Manhattan office to protest the new law. They waved signs saying “Excommunicate Cuomo” and chanted “Let the people vote!”
“I’m here for God’s sake,” said Steve Rosner, 65, of the Lower East Side. “To sanctify same-sex marriage is an abomination. It’s beyond belief.”
Hundreds more protested on the steps of Buffalo’s City Hall and at the state Capitol in Albany. Outside the Capitol where a month before jubilant gay couples celebrated the watershed vote, about 400 people gathered in a park in a protest they said was political, but had a strong religious thread.
Tre’ Staton, pastor at the Empire Christian Center in suburban Colonie and an organizer of the protest, said he lobbied lawmakers in the run-up to the New York Senate vote and was frustrated they passed a law he doesn’t believe many people support, particularly in the black community.
“We’re not against anybody, but we don’t want this imposed on us,” he said, stressing the National Organization for Marriage’s theme for the rally. “We’re looking for a referendum, an opportunity to have our fair say.”
Clerks in New York City and about a dozen other cities statewide opened their doors Sunday to cater to same-sex couples. In New York City and other locations, judges waived a mandatory 24-hour waiting period that allowed couples to exchange vows moments after receiving their licenses.