“Ecstatic,” “elated” and “equal” — these were just some of the words gay couples used to describe their feelings on Sunday at Queens Borough Hall, as they lined up to become the first ever married in Queens. The historic moment was set in motion a month ago, on June 24, when the state Legislature passed and the governor signed a law allowing same-sex marriages.
Applications for marriage licenses flooded the city clerk’s office, prompting the use of a lottery system that would allow record numbers to be married in all five boroughs on Sunday, the first day the law took effect.
In Queens, the couples arrived from all around the city and far-flung states. Many, like Astoria residents Greg Levine and Shane Serkiz, the very first gay couple married on Sunday, couldn’t wait.
“We got here a little before 7,” Levine told reporters outside the office, just minutes after exchanging vows with Serkiz. The office officially opened at 8:30 a.m., but the couple wanted to avoid crowds.
Levine and Serkiz have had to wait a long time to wed. When asked how long the couple had been engaged, Levine promptly answered: “4,223 days.”
The high school math teacher proposed to Serkiz, a special education teacher, on Dec. 31, 1999. “I got down on one knee and I said, ‘Shane, will you marry me?’” Levine said. The couple, with Levine’s family in attendance, seemed overjoyed that their nearly 12-year engagement had come to an end.
For Serkiz, who was born near Binghamton, NY, being able to get married in his home state was particularly moving.
“It really to me is a statement by the people of New York saying ‘yes,’” Serkiz said.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), one of two openly gay council members in Queens, was on hand to witness the historic first marriage between Levine and Serkiz, officiated by Judge Sidney F. Strauss. Immediately after the ceremony, Van Bramer said he felt “disbelief that I just watched two gay men from Astoria get married.” He added: “I’m so incredibly happy for them.”
Couple after couple who emerged from the clerk’s office as newlyweds echoed Van Bramer.
“I had never expected that this day would come,” said Sunnyside resident Lloyd Pasach, who wed Val Mendoza, his partner of 33 years. The two met at the University of Florida in September 1975.
Given the same-sex marriage bill’s history, it’s not surprising many doubted whether it would ever become law. The bill was defeated less than two years ago in the state Senate. This year, the bill struggled to make it to the floor for a vote.
Newlyweds Lou Rispoli and Danyal Lawson described how they watched the bill get approved by 33-29 votes just a little before midnight on television.
“It was like the Berlin Wall falling,” Rispoli said.
The bill’s successful passage has been attributed in part to Gov. Cuomo’s outspoken support, as well as activists’ continued efforts.
“We’ve been working on [the bill] for over a decade,” said Johanna Osburn, a representative of Empire State Pride Agenda who handed out “Just Married” sashes to couples throughout the day.
By Sunday’s end, a record-setting 659 couples were married or had received marriage licenses in New York City, 89 of them in Queens, according to the Mayor’s Office.
Van Bramer threw a party Sunday night at Claret, a wine bar in Sunnyside, to celebrate, where City Comptroller John Liu toasted the newlywed couples present.
“When two people love each other and are committed to each other, they should let nothing hold them back,” Liu said.