It is said that marriage marks the beginning of the rest of your life, and for gay and lesbian New Yorkers, Friday night was nothing less than a fresh start.
“We are now being treated as fully equal citizens,” said gay Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), touting the passage of state legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. “Having the option just makes us more whole as human beings, whether we choose to get married or not.”
In bars and in clubs, in homes and on the steps of City Hall, New Yorkers from all walks of life celebrated.
“This was a day in New York state history that we are going to remember for a long time,” said state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) who was in Albany to cast his vote in support of marriage equality. “I have never seen anything like it in my 10 years in the legislature. The anticipation and excitement has never been greater.” The chamber was filled with people who wanted to witness the vote, and when it passed, Gianaris said chants of “USA! USA!” erupted.
At City Hall for a press conference on the passage of the city budget, lesbian Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) repeatedly checked her Blackberry for the news.
“She screamed out ‘marriage passed!’ and all the councilmembers who were there burst out into applause. I know my eyes welled up with tears,” said gay Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). “It was really nice that it happened when we were all together.”
Van Bramer’s partner of 12 years and former Queens Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Dan Hendrick, was also by his side to celebrate. The pair are now in the process of planning their nuptials. “It’s exciting and it’s also a little daunting,” said Van Bramer, who must find a Queens venue that will hold a large crowd — even constituents expect invitations.
Though Citi Field has been suggested, Van Bramer said it would take a lot of understanding on Hendrick’s part to allow the wedding to happen there. “I’ve been married to the Mets for about 32 years already,” the Queens native joked.
Excitement over the legislation extended through Sunday, when Van Bramer, Hendrick, Dromm, Quinn and Gov. Cuomo attended the annual Gay Pride Parade with many revelers in Manhattan.
“It was the best weekend ever,” said Dromm of the festivities. “There was adulation of the governor, people were crying and screaming out ‘thank you Governor Cuomo!’ It was just total insanity in the good sense. I held up that ‘Marry Me!’ sign. I never thought I would see this day,” the Rego Park-native said.
In 2009, same-sex marriage legislation was voted down by state senators, however in the years since, public opinion changed.
The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a law restricting gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military and President Obama’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, a law presenting marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution, gave hope to many gays and lesbians.
In recent years, public sympathy was also aroused as attention turned toward anti-gay bullying, which caused many U.S. teens to take their own lives.
Increasing media attention to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered rights and targeted campaigns by groups like New Yorkers United for Marriage Equality helped put the pressure on state senators to vote in favor of equal rights, 33 to 29.
Three upstate Republicans gave crucial support to the legislation, which passed with one vote to spare. City senators Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) and Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) voted against the legislation.
Sarah and Stefanie Frank, a lesbian couple from Rego Park who are expecting twins watched the news from home. “We are just really happy that it happened. It’s just so wonderful,” Stefanie said.
“I’m very excited that our senators have stood up against their opponents, against their personal beliefs and stood for the law: all men are created equal. They kept the separation of church and state that we are founded on,” said Sarah.
Another contingent celebrating the passage of marriage equality are matrimonial lawyers. “I don’t think any divorce lawyer would say its a bad thing,” said Steven Eisman, who practices family law in Queens. “More married couples mean more divorces that’s just the way it is.”
There is no residency requirement for marriage in New York state, but same-sex couples who tie the knot here may return to divorce since same-sex marriages are only performed in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, DC.
Eisman said though the new legislation allows for judicial repeal, he doesn’t foresee any successful rebuttals. “Most of the opposition has to do with the word ‘marriage,’ not with the rights, so I think it will survive a challenge,” he said.
The legislation exempts religious groups from officiating over or participating in gay weddings and allows them to refuse to rent their facilities to gay couples. The law also requires relevant gender-specific language set forth in or referenced by New York to be construed in a gender-neutral manner.
Despite the widespread jubilation, some worry that since same-sex marriage will be permitted as of July 24, couples who have entered into domestic partnerships may be denied benefits unless they choose to marry.
When marriage is an option for everyone, Eisman said a potential legal challenge could arise if same-sex domestic partners were afforded benefits that heterosexual domestic partners were not.
Regardless of future challenges, Gianaris summed up the events of June 24 saying: “All the analysis and the machinations are minor compared to the history made by the vote itself.”