Gay marriage soon a reality in New York

July 23, 2011 2:28:03 PM PDT
Elissa Kane and Lynne Lekakis wed in an emotional ceremony in 2004 with their 7-year-old daughter, Nora, spreading rose petals down the aisle, church members standing with them in support and Kane's father toasting the couple.

Although they were married by a Unitarian minister, they were denied a license by the city clerk.

It will be a different story for the Albany couple on Monday.

New York will usher in legal gay marriage Sunday with an expected wedding boom as hundreds of people like Kane and Lekakis seize the moment. Couples planning to wed in the first week under the new law talked not only about blissful futures, but also about hard-fought victories, political statements and a sense that New York is catching up with what has been in their hearts for a long time.

"We've been marginalized by state law for so long and to finally be invited into the party makes me well up and makes me want to cry every time I think about it," said Mark Lynch, who will marry his partner of 29 years Monday in a group ceremony at Niagara Falls. "We're trying to make this a great celebration."

New York will become the sixth and largest state to sanction same-sex marriage at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. More than a half-dozen couples will exchange vows in the moments after midnight and over a thousand more could wed within several days. Clerks' offices in New York City and a dozen other cities will open Sunday specifically to handle the crush of couples.

The Legislature's recent decision to legalize gay marriage was eyed keenly by advocates and opponents alike to see if it would reinvigorate momentum in the national push for gay marriage. Those who objected, mostly on religious grounds, vowed to continue to fight and have promised lawsuits in New York.

Tiffany Peckosh and Meredith Soffrin will make official a romance that began in 2007 when Peckosh browsed through a friend's MySpace page and spotted a picture of a dark-haired girl with a great smile.

Peckosh, 31, is from Dubuque, Iowa, and Soffrin is a native of Washington, D.C. They moved in together in 2008 in Brooklyn - and New York City is where they want to wed.

"This is where we take our walks, this is where we discovered each other," said Soffrin, a social worker. "So this is where we wanted to do it."

Judges will be posted in New York City clerks' offices on Sunday to officiate and to consider waiver requests to the state's mandatory 24-hour wait between issuing a license and a ceremony. Couples without a waiver cannot wed until Monday or Tuesday, depending on whether their local clerk issues licenses Sunday.

Among the weekday weddings: Lynch and Thomas Korn will join more than 35 other couples Monday in a group wedding at Niagara Falls and more than 80 couples plan to get married Tuesday at Bethpage State Park on Long Island.

Lynch, 56, and Korn invited all of their friends, family members and co-workers to watch them exchange vows in Irish linen shirts and matching scarves in a rainbow pattern, in homage to the gay pride symbol. To Lynch, the marriage to a partner he committed to in the '80s is also a symbol, but a hugely important one.

"We decided to take this stance to make as loud a noise as possible," Lynch said.

Korn had waited so long to marry his partner that he popped the question before Gov. Andrew Cuomo even signed the bill into law the night of June 24. Korn was at their home near Niagara Falls watching the Senate debate the bill that night when he called Lynch at the Italian restaurant where he works.

"I said two things," Korn, 51, recalled. "One: `I already bought milk, so don't bother,' and No. 2: `Would you marry me?"'

The weeks since have been a whirlwind of getting out invitations, getting fitted for rings and other details. Lynch said that every room of their home on Lake Ontario will be full for the celebration and that they are setting tents up on the lawn for kids to sleep in.

In Albany, Kane and Lekakis are taking a more low-key approach. They were married in 2004 in their Albany Unitarian Universalist church with another gay couple after an invitation from their minister, who was inspired by recent same-sex commitment ceremonies south of Albany, in New Paltz.

The Albany clerk refused to give them a license both before and after the wedding, helping set up a landmark court case that they and other gay couples who sued eventually lost in 2006.

Still Kane asserts: "In our minds, we were married."

And in one sense, they won: That court ruling clearly put the onus on the Legislature to add gay marriage, and five years later it did, adding New York to the other five states that allow same-sex marriage: Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa. Washington, D.C., also allows gay couples to wed.

On Monday, Kane and Lekakis will head to Albany's old stone City Hall - the same place they were denied in 2004 - to get a marriage license. After seven years, they want the legal protections and recognition that piece of paper will give them as soon as possible.

No big ceremony this time. They have invited friends and supporters for a toast at their church Tuesday evening as the reverend who married them in 2004 solemnizes their marriage. They sent out an email invitation with the subject line: "Second Time for Real."

"I think we're feeling very much like a lot of gay couples who have had their ceremony. We're ready to just have it done with," Kane said. "I don't need another party. I don't need another wedding. I had the best one."

New York is by far the largest state to legalize same-sex marriage. With 19.4 million people, it has a higher population than the other five states with gay marriage combined.

New York is home to 65,303 same-sex couples, according to census data reported by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles. Thousands of those couples have already been married in other states. Others, like Stephen Williams and Joey Pressley, have been waiting for the chance to marry in their home state.

"We talked about, maybe we should go to Connecticut or D.C. or some other locale and get married," Pressley said. "But we decided this is our home and we didn't want to do it anywhere else."

The two men met in Greenwich Village on a cold night in 1990, moved in together in 2004, but waited to tie the knot.

Williams, 49, and Pressley, 48, are planning to get their marriage license on Sunday and get hitched at a ceremony on Friday at a restaurant in Harlem. Former Mayor David Dinkins, whom Pressley met while attending a class at Columbia University, will officiate.

In some ways their marriage will be a bittersweet achievement, Williams said. Both men lost "tons" of friends to AIDS during the 1990s, and the couple will miss them on Friday, he said.

"Those years were really hard," Williams said. "There are friends who have been gone for 20 years now who not only will not be here to celebrate this, but also weren't here to fight for it. And I think our friends would have fought for our marriage as a civil right."


Hawley reported from New York City.