Text and photos by Ted Regencia
Published July 24, 2011
NEW YORK — In a move that is likely to have far-reaching socio-political implications across the United States, the country’s most populous city of New York welcomed on Sunday hundreds of same-sex couples, who exchanged vows on the first day that gay marriage is legal here.
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, one of the top politicians supporting gay rights, presided over the wedding of his chief policy adviser John Feinblatt and his Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Jonathan Mintz at the Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor.
“Today in the city and in the state, history takes an important step forward by allowing every person to participate,” Bloomberg said during the Sunday evening ceremony.
Addressing Feinblatt and Mintz, Bloomberg said, “Everyone of us wishes…for you a love that makes both of you better people.”
“Therefore by the powers vested in me by the state of New York, I pronounce you both married,” Bloomberg declared to cheers from the audience including politicians, entertainers, family and friends of the couple.
Earlier, Govenor Andrew Cuomo declared July 24 a “Day to Commemorate Marriage Equality” in honor of the record-breaking 659 couples who actually showed up to exchange vows. That number beats the 621 marriages on February 14, 2003 and 610 marriages on August 8, 2008.
Cuomo underlined the Empire State’s “commitment to ensuring complete equality for all of our citizens.”
In New York City, the application for marriage license and the hundreds of ceremonies that followed were held in five locations, one in each borough including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island.
At the City Clerk’s Office in Bronx, Rev. Carmen Hernandez, founder and president of New York’s first and only organization for gay business-owners exchanged vows with her partner of two years, Doris De Aarmas who has four biological daughters from a previous marriage.
“It’s beyond,” Hernandez said describing her feelings about her marriage to De Aarmas. “As an advocate and activist for three decades, fighting for our rights has been a tremendous joy and victory.”
Sonia Febles and Lourdes Laracuente have been together for 35 years since they were high school students in Puerto Rico. As a practicing Catholic, Febles said she believes her marriage with Laracuente is blessed by God.
“The Lord said, ‘whatever you unite on earth will be united in heaven’,” said Febles, adding that both her and Laracuente’s families are supportive of their decision to get married.
According to the city, at least 60 judges have volunteered to officiate the ceremony.
Lizbeth Gonzalez is an acting Supreme Court justice of the Bronx County. She volunteered to officiate the gay weddings saying she believes in equality for all couples.
“Marriage is about love. I believe that God loves everybody equally, and if you can’t get married in the church then the state should be available to recognize the commitment and the love that people have for one another,” Gonzalez explained.
She also said the new law will have an impact on other states considering gay marriage.
“New York often sets a standard that is followed by other states. I think New York sides with the underdog. New York supports people’s rights. New York believes in equality for all. These are goals that I think can be emulated nationwide,” Gonzalez added.
Elsewhere in the state, a lesbian couple from the Buffalo area exchanged vows before Mayor Paul A. Dyster with the Niagara Falls as its backdrop. Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd were the first to get married a few minutes after midnight.
As this developed, thousands marched through the streets of Manhattan to protest the “redefinition of marriage” under the new law. The march organized by the National Organization For Marriage is calling on the state government to put the new law into a referendum vote.
“If New York is going to change the definition of marriage, it should be the People and not the politicians who make the decision,” the group added in a statement.
Hundreds of protesters wearing yellow shirts shouted, “Let the people vote!” They also played the drums and cymbals, and carried placards condemning Cuomo and Bloomberg, while marching along Third Ave. and 47th Street.
On June 24, the New York legislature passed the controversial law making it legal to marry a same-sex partner in the state. It was immediately signed by Governor Cuomo.
With his signature, New York becomes the seventh and largest state to give same-sex couples the legal right to marry.
The states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are the other states to recognize gay marriage. In Illinois, civil union is also legal. Another state considering a similar legislation is Maryland.
Cuomo, who is a Catholic, has been criticized by his church for his stand on the issue. Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the law “alter radically and forever humanity’s historic understanding of marriage,” which he said should only be between one man and one woman.
“We worry that both marriage and the family will be undermined by this tragic presumption of government in passing this legislation that attempts to redefine these cornerstones of civilization,” Dolan said in a statement.
The New York law, however, gives protection to religious institutions to define marriage and does not force any church denomination to recognize same-sex unions or to solemnize such unions.
At the same time non-New York residents are also qualified to apply, but other states with no such laws are not required to recognize it.
Like other state-level gay marriage laws, it is still not recognized in the federal level. The U.S. Defense of Marriage Act prohibits gay couples from receiving benefits, like tax deductions and inheritance as well as immigration rights for foreign partners.