Spouses rejoice at pre-parade weddings; vow that unions will soon be legalized in New York
New York activists who have organized The Wedding Party for the last four years, a same-sex marriage event that happens just before the Fifth Avenue pride parade, have seen their hopes actualized in the past year—from Canada to Massachusetts, from San Francisco to New Paltz, and from Oregon to New Mexico.
Once again this year, organizers united more than 60 couples, including three straight couples, to advocate for marriage equality.
“Our theme is ‘No Family Left Behind,’” Renee Rotkopf, the group’s executive director, said Sunday morning.
Same-sex marriage leaders spoke of the progress made over the last year. Evan Wolfson, of Freedom to Marry, reminded the crowd, “This is a wedding, but it’s not a marriage,” noting “we are still second-class citizens.”
J.M. Sorrell, a justice of the peace who has legally married 50 same-sex couples in Northampton, Massachusetts, said, “We never threatened heterosexual marriage. We threatened the norm of masculine and feminine gender roles.”
Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat, showed up with his partner of 23 years, John Banta, whom he met at Catholic University. The two men are part of one of several lawsuits against New York State seeking the right to marry. O’Donnell quoted Thomas Jefferson. “Our civil rights are not dependent on religious opinion,” said the freshman lawmaker.
Mayor John Shields of Nyack, who is also suing the state in order to marry his partner, Bob Streams, said, “It is profoundly crazy that Pres. Bush is fighting a war for freedom and democracy in Iraq at the same time he wants to limit the freedom of millions of Americans” referring to the president’s support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposal that seeks to permanently ban same-sex marriage in the Constitution.
Rev. Pat Bumgardner, along with other religious and civic leaders, presided over the weddings. “Faith is not what you believe, but what you do,” Bumgardner said. “Love is not a sentiment.” She asked the spouses to “tell each other why you love him or her” and say “what new thing is now possible for you.” The couples did so, most with broad smiles and heartfelt tears.
Victor Rivera of Queens married his partner of seven years, Scott Bray. Rivera, a former Jehovah’s Witness, who said he once associated with anti-gay demonstrators, said, “I’ve never felt more completed.” Bray added, “Nobody in my life has loved me as completely as he has.”
Lynda and Brenda of Jackson Heights, who did not give their last names, said, “We’re tired of being discriminated against.”
Rollerena, a celebrity performer, gave her blessing to the ceremony and said, “It’s very important that everybody love everybody.”
“It’s the first year we had protesters,” noted Tony Brown, a marriage equality advocate.
Although a gaggle of Christian fundamentalists were allowed to demonstrate from within five paces of the ceremony, a large crowd of gay and lesbian people holding Wedding Party signs heavily outnumbered them. Despite the presence of scores of police, officials did not order the right-wing protesters to assemble across the street. One gay visitor from South Dakota, Tom Heald, said of the event, “It is impossible to come here and witness something like this and not have your faith in the power of love and community strengthened.”
Connie Ress, director of Marriage Equality/USA, later said that same-sex marriage advocates were enthusiastically received along the parade route. Considered a mostly symbolic, if not quaint, tradition years ago, these marriages may well be on their way to legal recognition in New York.