Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples began tying the knot in New York early Sunday as the law making it the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriages took effect.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier online version of this article incorrectly stated that 840 same-sex couples had applied for a lottery to be wed Sunday in New York City at the City Clerk's offices. In all, 823 had applied.
"It was just so amazing," 76-year-old Phyllis Siegel said as she stood outside the City Clerk's office in Manhattan with her newly betrothed, Connie Kopelov. Kopelov, 85 and in a wheelchair, and Siegel have been together 23 years. They were the first same-sex couple to get married in the city.
Not far behind them were Dave Lewis of Long Beach and Adam McKew of West Covina. They dressed for their wedding in traditional kilts and Prince Charlie jackets, with ermine-fur bags hanging on their hips, to pay tribute to their shared Scottish heritage.
Lewis and McKew have been together seven years and Sunday was their anniversary. "We're very excited," said Lewis, who proposed two years earlier in hopes that same-sex marriage would be legalized here in 2009. The measure failed then. When it passed last month, the couple celebrated and began planning their nuptials.
For the couples here, the celebration carried special significance in light of President Obama's announcements last week of two demands of gay rights groups. On Tuesday, he endorsed a bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would repeal the 15-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and denies federal benefits and protections to gay couples who married in states that recognize their unions. On Friday, Obama certified Congress' repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
The couples marrying Sunday were among 823 who had applied in advance for the chance to wed in New York City at the City Clerk's offices Sunday, the day the bill legalizing same-sex marriages came into effect. The city held the lottery after it realized that demand for weddings could be more than the five City Clerk's offices could handle. The city's previous one-day record for performing civil marriage ceremonies was Valentine's Day in 2003, when 621 couples wed.
In the end, all 823 couples who signed up for the lottery were given slots, which were spread across the five boroughs to prevent clerks in any single office from being swamped. By 8 a.m., scores had lined up outside courthouses. "The last thing we want is for couples to wait on line for hours and hours, only to walk away upset on what was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in explaining the reason for the lottery. He called it "the fairest way to determine who gets the chance to wed" on the first day that legalization of same-sex marriage took effect.
Because the law took effect on a Sunday, several cities, including the capital, Albany, took the unusual step of opening municipal offices handling marriage-related matters. By law, couples wanting to wed in New York state must wait 24 hours after obtaining a marriage license, but judges Sunday planned to waive that requirement to allow immediate weddings.
Tens of thousands of additional couples are expected to wed in New York state, which has more than 65,000 same-sex couples, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, which studies gender-based law and social policy. Its estimate is based on numbers from the latest U.S. census.
Kathryn Hamm, whose business, http://www.gayweddings.com, is an online boutique and advice center for same-sex couples, said Web traffic in New York in the past month was 270% higher than for the same time period last year, an indication of the interest here in same-sex marriage. Other states that recognize same-sex marriages are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire. It is also legal in Washington, D.C. California legalized gay marriages in May 2008, but Proposition 8's passage six months later overturned the law.
There has been no indication of an attempt to do the same in this overwhelmingly Democratic state, where same-sex marriage was a centerpiece of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's campaign last year. But the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative group that supported Proposition 8, has vowed to target for defeat the New York lawmakers who voted to legalize same-sex marriage.
A protest called by the National Organization for Marriage drew fewer than a dozen people outside the Manhattan courthouse.
"God hates your feelings" was among the signs being waved.
"That's their legal right," said Lewis, who like others said they were not fazed by the protesters. "That's what's great about living in America."