July 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm EDT | by Phil Reese
24 hours of New York marriage equality

On Sunday, New York state joined five other states and the district of Columbia in treating same-sex couples as equal to opposite-sex couples in state civil marriage.

Despite several protests organized by groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Westboro Baptist Church, hundreds of couples married in the state of New York in the first 24 hours, 659 couples in New York City alone, according to the marriage equality advocacy group, On Top Magazine. The city had announced that they would allow 764 marriages to occur on Sunday after over 2600 same-sex couples had applied for marriage licences in advance of the July 24 start date. Many cities throughout the state had judges on hand to waive the 24 hour waiting period after applying for a licence to allow couples to marry immediately.

With these first marriages, New York becomes the most populous state to offer marriage equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.  The bill was able to pass a Republican-controlled Senate thanks to the inclusion of very specific language in the legislation, carefully spelling out broad religious exemptions serving to ease the fears of religious institutions and organizations worried they could be sued or punished for refusing to recognize the marriages if the unions are not recognized by their particular institution. In most states, these exemptions are implied, but the additional care applied in the state Senate to defining these exemptions quelled the fears of some undecided lawmakers worried about fallout from religious groups. The bill passed the Senate June 24, 33-29 and was signed by the Governor just before midnight. Four Republicans supported the bill, and only one Democrat opposed.

Even some couples in the District, where same-sex marriage has been legal for over a year, plan to travel to wed in New York, where friends and family may be waiting to celebrate with them.

In locations throughout the state, same-sex couples vied for the title of “first” to be married in the state, exchanging vows at 12:01 a.m. in most cases.

Phyllis Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, — who have been together for 23 years — were the first couple married in New York City at 9:02 a.m. in Manhattan. Phyllis exchanged vows with Connie, who was in a wheelchair during the ceremony, but stood to address reporters with the help of a walker.

“These are two independent people who are joining together because they can see and they can feel how much better their lives will be,” city clerk Michael McSweeney said as the couple exchanged vows. “We are grateful that they are allowing us to share this truly momentous ceremony with them.”

Meanwhile, Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd of Buffalo were the first couple married at Niagara Falls, and mayor Paul Dyster — who is looking to reclaim the city’s spot as world’s ‘Honeymoon Capital,’ according to an Associated Press report — officiated the ceremony that was timed to be completed one second after midnight. The couple exchanged vows on Luna Island with the American Horseshoe falls as a backdrop to their wedding. 46 couples were married Monday at the falls, as they were lit up in rainbow, giving new meaning to the city’s nickname, “The Rainbow City.”

In Albany, another 10 couples married just after the stroke of midnight, joining Kitty Lambert and Chereyle Rudd and others in the early morning celebrations across the state.

Though just in their early twenties, Dee Smith and Kate Wrede could not wait another day to marry. They were among the first same-sex couples in the state married in their middle of the night ceremony at the North Hempstead Town Hall in Manhasset.

According to the New York Post, the other first couples in New York City’s four other boroughs are Michael Faurey, 63, and Bobby Amagna, 65 in Brooklyn, after 20 years together, Greg Levine and Shane Serkiz were the first to marry in Queens, Carmen Hernandez and Doris DeArmas became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the Bronx, and Bedelia Sanchez and Lavern Rivera — a New Jersey couple — were the first same-sex couple to legally marry on Staten Island.

On Sunday evening, Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiated the nuptials of two close advisers, his chief policy adviser, John Feinblatt, and his now-spouse, the city’s consumer affairs commissioner Jonathan Mintz, at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor of New York’s official residence.


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