‘Partner’ Becomes ‘Wife’ as N.Y. Begins Marrying Gay Couples

Rachel Baker and Christine Tully
Rachel Baker, left, and Christine Tully wait to get their marriage license at the Manhattan City Clerk's office in New York. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Yolanda Potasinski and Nancy Mertzel called each other “partner” since 1997. After their wedding yesterday in New York, which married gay couples for the first time, they can make it “wife.”

Clerks’ offices statewide and in New York City’s five boroughs, which are usually closed on Sundays, opened to honor the law that legislators passed in Albany last month and that took effect yesterday. With 19.4 million residents, New York was the sixth and most populous U.S. state to legalize gay marriages.

Potasinski, the 55-year-old executive director of an Upper West Side synagogue, took her place first in line outside the borough clerk’s office in Lower Manhattan at 4:30 a.m. and was soon followed by hundreds ready to exchange vows. Some couples wore white dresses or suits. Others sported jeans and flip-flops. Onlookers held signs of support and passersby in taxis rolled down windows to shout congratulations.

“It means an incredible amount,” said Mertzel, a 48-year-old lawyer who joined Potasinski at the office shortly before the doors opened around 8:30 a.m. “It will be great for our kids -- our relationship will be just as significant as those of the heterosexual parents of their friends.”

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in Greenwich Village married the couple under a rainbow canopy across from the clerk’s office as their 6-year-old son, Eli, and 4-year-old daughter, Shari, looked on. The pair, who met 20 years ago, wed in a religious ceremony in 1997.

‘Making History’

The city issued 659 marriage licenses to gay and straight couples yesterday, 107 of which were for out-of-state residents, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office said. Twenty-three states were represented and volunteer judges married 484 couples, it said.

“Today, surrounded by family and friends, you are making history,” Bloomberg said yesterday as he presided over the wedding of two aides at Gracie Mansion, his official residence. The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP.

New York’s marriage-rights law, which Governor Andrew Cuomo orchestrated and which made headlines worldwide, more than doubled the number of Americans free to marry either gender, to 35 million.

Lifetime Fight

Same-sex marriages in New York will be recognized in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington D.C., where the practice is legal, as well as in Maryland and Rhode Island, where it is not, according to Bloomberg’s office.

“Marriage equality is alive and well,” New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the body’s first openly gay leader, said in a press briefing outside the clerk’s office, eliciting cheers from spectators. “All of the great stories and love that are pouring out today -- they show what all of us who have fought a lifetime for this knew and know, that moving rights forward makes us a better society.”

Quinn said in an interview later she now has a subscription to Martha Stewart Weddings magazine.

Alvin Woods, 27, and Antonio Lopez, 25, exchanged vows in Manhattan with relatives as witnesses after friends introduced the pair six months ago. During the ceremony, they unveiled matching tattoos of their soon-to-be anniversary date on their ring fingers. They plan a reception in August to celebrate, Woods said.

“We’re blessed to share in this historic day in New York,” said Woods, who along with his husband will change his name to Lopez-Woods. “We’re honored to share our love.”

Bibles and Chants

Not everyone was enthused. Across the street from the governor’s Midtown Manhattan office hundreds of people marched in protest of gay vows. They held signs, carried Bibles and chanted “let the people vote.”

“The government did not really represent us,” said Jerry Casilum, 44, a physician’s assistant from Long Island. “There needs to be a popular vote.”

One of the rally’s organizers, the National Organization for Marriage, also held events in Albany, Buffalo and Rochester. The group has pledged to spend millions of dollars ousting lawmakers who voted in favor of same-sex marriage.

Today, opponents filed a lawsuit seeking the law’s reversal. New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms contends that the legislation’s passage violated state open-meetings laws and that debate was improperly limited.

Pledging Their Lives

Bloomberg, who united John Feinblatt, his chief policy adviser, and Jonathan Mintz, the city’s commissioner for consumer affairs, said New York took too long to recognize that two men or two women can be “two people who want to be together and spend the rest of their lives together.”

“On a beautiful summer evening in New York City, two people who loved each other dearly came together in front of family and friends, and pledged their lives to each other,” the mayor said. “When all is said and done -- that’s what tonight is all about.”

After they were married, Mintz and Feinblatt hugged each other and their daughters, Maeve, 8, and Georgia, 6, as the crowd applauded. Joel Grey, the Broadway performer, sang a song from the musical, Cabaret: “How the world can change, it can change like that, due to one little word: married.”

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