Sunday, July 24 marked a historic day in New York history, as hundreds of same-sex couples were legally wed in the sixth and largest state to allow the unions. A month ago to the day, June 24, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the same-sex marriage bill into law.
The 764 marriage slots were awarded by lottery, but when 823 couples registered, the state made everyone a winner by allowing all the couples to marry. Both gay and straight couples applied, breaking the record of 621 couples wed on Valentine’s Day 2003. Most of the marriages, 459 of them, were conducted at the Manhattan City Clerk’s Office at 141 Worth St.
It was a day full of love and exuberance, as couples, some from as far away as South Carolina, Tennessee and Puerto Rico, came to the city to tie the knot.
Shaun Burse and her partner of two years, Jameese Cox, both from Nashville, Tenn., were excited to be in New York for this historic day. “We were planning to go to Connecticut to have a full ceremony with our family and friends, but we wanted to do a legal marriage,” Burse told the AmNews. “We said, ‘New York, forget Connecticut.’ We got on the plane and here we are. We got here Saturday morning and it has been nonstop. Except that we couldn’t catch a cab after dark, New York is awesome. Everybody has been real friendly.”
Coming all the way from Puerto Rico were Sheela Medina and her partner of two years, Evelyn Gonzalez. “We’re very happy. We love New York,” Medina said. Translating Gonzalez’s sentiments, she said, “She feels very glad and very happy. We are going to have a big celebration in Puerto Rico.”
Audra Seabrook and Jasmine Mendez of South Carolina have been together for three years and have two daughters, 7 and 13 years of age. They arrived from South Carolina. “We’re excited. Everybody should have the opportunity to be married and be as one, especially when it comes to health benefits and needing to do things for one another. It’s just easier if we’re married. Hopefully it will get to South Carolina soon. I love my wife very much and it’s great. We’re going to have a pretty good time when we get out of here,” Seabrook said.
Speaking of their children, Mendez said, “They’re excited for us. They don’t have to hide in the closet and say my mom’s not a lesbian. They can be proud. It’s still a struggle, but hopefully it will get better in time because it is legal now. It’s rough for children. My 13-year-old has had to explain it, but now she can say we’re legally married. I’m happy for that,” she said.
Two women from Philadelphia, both of whom were in law enforcement, were excited to finally be able to marry, but talked with anonymity to the AmNews about how job discrimination and fear still affects same-sex couples, even when legally wed.
The pair, who has been together for four years, said, “They just need to leave it alone. They need to drop it. Our families have no problem. We just wanted to be here for the first day.” They then proudly showed off their rings.
A small group of protesters carrying anti-gay-marriage signs gathered just across the street form the couples. Supporters attempted to block them from view with colorful umbrellas.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, her partner and other supporters, stood in front of the group, who yelled anti-gay marriage slurs. “Our love is bigger than their hate,” Kleinbaum said.
“We want to create an image of love that embraces all of us and to not engage with them but to protect the couples getting married from seeing such hatred on a day of celebrating their love,” she said.
Alvin Woods, 27, and Antonio Lopez, 25, have been together six months. With support from their family and friends, the pair is looking forward to a lifelong partnership.
“We’re jumping right in. We’re in love and excited,” Woods said. “I don’t think it’s so much about the time. When you’re in love with someone, time is of the essence. He’s my best friend. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do this. We’ve already created our family. This is just the next step,” he said.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city’s first openly gay council speaker and a staunch supporter of the new legislation, shed tears of joy at the day’s events and at the sight of so many happy couples. “I’ve talked to people who have little appliques that their sons made. I’ve talked to senior citizens who have been together for a lifetime.
They’re here in this most amazing of moments when their hometown and their state are saying that their family is just as good as everybody else’s. That part of the law that, in rule, said that they were less than other people, which we all knew wasn’t true, is now gone,” Quinn said.
“Today is one of those amazing days that’s going to make us a stronger state and a stronger community. I’m just so grateful to all these folks out here in the sun waiting to take part in this awesome event. I’m thankful to all the people volunteering their time to make it happen and everyone who worked so hard to bring us this law,” she said.
Henrietta Padgett and her partner of 11 years, Deborah McCadney, were thrilled that the law finally passed in New York. “We’ve been waiting for a very long time. We were thinking about going to Canada or Boston. Some of our friends went to Africa to get married. We said we knew they were going to make it legal in New York, so let’s just have a little patience,” McCadney said.
“I’m really glad, because at my age, I can remember just wanting to walk down the street holding a woman’s hand and being OK with that, and now I’m going to be married,” Padgett said with excitement.
Actress Terri White and her partner, Donna Barnett, have been together for 25 years. “We’re very excited to be a part of this. I didn’t think it was going to happen in my lifetime,” White said. “I’m so proud that we were able to get this far.”
The couple, who has five children and eight grandchildren between them, tied the knot along with two other couples on the stage of the St. James Theater during the curtain call of “Hair.”
As the newly married pairs bask in the joy of finally being wed, opponents of the same-sex law are already at work to derail the legislation. The group, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, filed a suit the next day, citing, among other things, the suspension of normal voting procedures in the Senate, which did not allow opposing senators to speak out against the measure. It also accuses the state Senate of violating its own procedures by not sending the bill to different committees before a final vote was taken.
Democratic State Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Pentecostal minister with an openly gay granddaughter, has emerged as a staunch opponent to the new rule. Diaz, who led a protest rally on the first day of the same-sex weddings, told the Spanish news agency EFE that while he was “in agreement with the lawsuit. There were many infractions that day. They didn’t let me speak because the governor wanted the bill approved before 11 o’clock at night so it could be announced on the news. They violated all the rules,” he said. “They banned other senators from speaking who, even though they supported the bill, wanted to explain their vote.”