Marrying and making history


By Aidan Gardiner

Life is too often determined by the intermittent tragedies that occupy our attention. Last week a mass-murder’s vicious attack rocked Norway and a talented but reckless songstress died. Meanwhile, a hacking scandal continued to unravel in England. But on Sunday, New York did its part to grant the world a break from that march of awful news with one of those rarer moments of historic joy.

On July 24, same-sex couples throughout the state married each other, marking the first day in which those marriages were sanctioned by New York. Down at the Manhattan County Clerk’s Office, a carnival-like atmosphere grew under a gray summer day to commemorate the occasion. Couples waited to wed in a line that doubled back down the block. Hundreds of camera flashes lit as many grins and a parade of varied dresswear, from formal suits to dazzling, rainbow gowns.

The atmosphere was fervent but merry. As newlyweds exited the Clerk’s Office, at Baxter and Worth Sts., a guard waved her hands in the air, cueing the expectant crowd to shout their congratulations. When they crossed the street, the crowd would part to make a kind of aisle. Some would toss confetti as they passed. A string duet played marriage hymns. And swarms of photographers descended upon them.

Nicholas Russo, an attorney, said he was deeply moved seeing the public celebrate his marriage because he was so accustomed to hiding his identity.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much that really means because when we started in the relationship, you had to be careful who you told you were gay and in what context,” he said. Russo and his now-husband have been together for 37 years.

Katie Williams, who flew in from North Carolina with her wife-to-be, Jennifer Anderson, said she reveled in the public’s appreciation.

“It’s like, ‘Celebrate me’! It seems a little egotistical, but it’s good fun,” Williams said. “It’s a celebration of love at a time when things are uncertain and a little fearful.”

Anderson said she couldn’t sleep the night before because she expected vicious opposition.

“I was nervous about the very negative heckling I thought was going to be here, and there wasn’t any,” she said. “We had all these people cheering and confetti. I was prepared for the fight — but to get just love back, that was cool.”

Some opposition protesters gathered in the morning, but most dissipated by the afternoon. By 1:30 p.m., only one man was keeping it up, shouting from behind police barricades to no one in particular, as officers milled about with bored looks on their faces.

Couples like Anderson and Williams came from around the nation to get married.

“I did a couple who blew in from Hawaii just to get married. They’re leaving on Wednesday, but they came in just for this event,” said Justice Paul Wooten, who married many couples on Sunday. “We had another couple come in from California and they had only been on the ground for three hours.”

After the last couple of the day exited the building — a young soldier in his dress blues and a bride in a flowing white dress — state Senator Tom Duane greeted the crowd. He and his partner, Louis Webre, had volunteered their help with the many marriages of the day. Several people came up to Duane and held his hand as they thanked him for his role in securing marriage equality.

“It has made me feel that my work in Albany has made a big impact on people’s lives, and that’s thrilling,” Duane said.

He and Webre didn’t get married Sunday. When an onlooker asked why not, Duane jokingly pointed to Webre, who was wearing shorts, and quipped, “We didn’t do the deed because he couldn’t afford longer pants.”

Duane later conceded that he and Webre had been too busy to discuss the prospect of marriage. They both said that they’ve felt pressured to marry from their families and even Governor Cuomo himself.

Many newlyweds said that this was the first step in reaching broader equality for same-sex couples. Then two days later, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a “friend of the court” brief joining a challenge of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Many have criticized DOMA because it allows the federal government and states to not recognize same-sex marriages, thereby blocking the enjoyment of the same rights heterosexual married couples enjoy.

“This is a beginning today of showing America that we are full citizens,” said Paul who wed Sunday, but declined to give his last name. “And in 50 years, no one will remember when we never were — but we started today.”

Many said that they married on July 24 to be part of a historic moment. But Paul said his reason was much simpler: “Because we can,” he said. “We’ve been together 18 years, and we could’ve waited a little longer. But we said, No, we should be among the first — because we can.”