Gay and lesbian couples turn out for nuptials

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Jody Bruner was standing on Worth Street in lower Manhattan quietly coloring in the “Just Married” she had written on the rear window of her car. Jody, 20, and her 26-year-old spouse, Heather, got into that car in Ohio at 10pm on July 23 and drove all night. They got into line at 6am outside the marriage bureau in Manhattan and there were already another 30 to 40 couples ahead of them. They got their marriage license, they got married, and now, at roughly 11:30am, they were getting back into that car to drive home to Ohio.

Heather’s employer, a retail company, has carried Jody, who described herself as a “stay at home mom of three dogs,” on its health plan for two years. Their plans for the post-wedding are to drive home. Jody jokingly said that would be their honeymoon. Ohio has a law on the books that bars the state from recognizing their marriage. There is no pressing economic reason for their marriage.

“Because it’s a big event,” Jody said when asked why they made the trip. Heather entered their names in the city’s lottery for slots to get married on July 24, the first day that gay and lesbian couples can legally marry in New York, and surprised her with the news that they had won.

For most couples that our sister publication Gay City News spoke with outside the marriage bureaus in Brooklyn and Manhattan, getting married on this day in New York City had little to do with obtaining employee benefits or some other right. They shared the Bruner’s view that they wanted to participate in what they saw as an important and wonderful moment.

“I think it’s taking advantage of a right that the community was just given and supporting the institution of marriage,” said Josh Cogswell, 35, and he waited with Justin Daniel, 32, his partner of 10 years, outside the Brooklyn marriage bureau.

Cogswell and Daniel entered into a civil union in New Jersey in 2007 and Cogswell’s employer, Viacom, has extended employee benefits, such as health insurance, to Daniel since then. They took a trip that was akin to a honeymoon after the 2007 ceremony. Following their marriage on July 24, Daniel said they would go see the latest Harry Potter film.

“We’ve always considered ourselves to be married,” Daniel said.

Amber Largent, 31, and Rebecca Amelio, 30, are moving to California in August. While a federal court challenge brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights successfully overturned the 2008 ban on same sex marriage in that state with continuing appeals that decision has yet to be implemented. So the couple, who have been together for 15 months, could not marry there.

“We’d have all the rights of married people, but we can’t say we’re married,” Amelio said outside of the Brooklyn marriage bureau. Though married in New York, California will treat their marriage like a domestic partnership.

Amelio and Largent said they planned on holding a ceremony with 15 friends on the Highline, a park that was built on an elevated rail line on Manhattan’s West Side, later in the day. Without any official approval, it will be a kind of flash wedding.

“It’s a very small group,” Amelio said. “We feel like we can just sneak up there.”

The scene in Brooklyn was orderly and happy notwithstanding the members of the Westboro Baptist Church who held a counter protest on Joralemon Street across from the Brooklyn marriage bureau. That group also protested in Manhattan and Queens. Within 30 minutes of the 8:30am bureau opening, a third of the 109 couples expected to marry or obtain licenses there were already inside the building.

In Manhattan, a long line of mostly gay and lesbian couples snaked along the block on Centre Street. Inside the bureau, the atmosphere resembled a day at any overworked government agency. Volunteers and staff wearing orange hats marched through the crowd yelling out the latest number to be served. The ambience, however, was far more joyful than any government agency typically sees. The Manhattan bureau is expected to serve 459 couples by the end of the day and over 800 couples will be served citywide. Previously, the record for the most couples married in one day at the city’s five marriage bureaus was 680.

Over 2,600 couples applied for marriage licenses online from July 5 through July 19 and half indicated they wanted to marry on July 24. With as many as 1,300 couples hoping to marry on that day, the city held a lottery for 764 July 24 slots. When just over 800 couples applied to the lottery, the city decided it would marry or issue a license to every couple that wanted a license, a marriage, or both on July 24.

In a statement issued late on July 24, City Hall reported that 659 couples had received a marriage license, been married, or both on that day at the city’s five marriage bureaus. Of the 659, 484 were married. Spouses came from New York and 23 other states though 77 percent of the couples were from New York City.

For Maira Garcia, 49, and Maria Vargas, 49, the marriage was the cap on a long, but frustrated relationship. They met in high school, but were separated by their families who disapproved. Thirty-one years later, they found each other again.

“It gives the benefits and the rights,” Vargas said as she waited outside the Brooklyn bureau. “Since we love each other, we want to be able to take care of each other.”