Thousands of protesters rallied in several cities around the state, a signal that the long fight for recognition may not be over just yet.
But a party atmosphere reigned in the lobby of the Manhattan clerk’s office, with cheers and applause breaking out whenever a couple was handed their white-and-blue wedding certificate. Balloons floated overhead. One couple wore matching kilts; another wore sparkly crowns. Children scurried up and down the lobby; workers with bullhorns called out the numbers of each couple.
Poignant signs of pent-up emotion were common from couples who had in some cases waited for years to wed. Couples cried and voices quavered. Newlywed Douglas Robinson exclaimed “You bet your life I do!” when asked whether he would take Michael Elsasser as his spouse.
The first couple to marry in Manhattan were Phyllis Siegel, 77, and Connie Kopelov, 85, who have been together for 23 years. Kopelov arrived in a wheelchair and stood with the assistance of a walker. During the service, Siegel wrapped her hand in Kopelov’s hand and they both grasped the walker.
Witnesses cheered and wiped away tears after the two women vowed to honor and cherish each other as spouses and then kissed.
“I am breathless. I almost couldn’t breathe,” Siegel said after the ceremony. “It’s mind-boggling. The fact that’s it’s happening to us — that we are finally legal and can do this like everyone else.”
Outside afterward, Siegel raised her arms exultantly as Kopelov, in the wheelchair, held out a marriage certificate.
New York’s approval of same-sex marriage is viewed as a pivotal moment in the national gay rights movement and was expected to galvanize supporters and opponents alike. The state joined Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, along with the District of Columbia, when it voted last month to legalize gay marriage.
Protest rallies were planned in Manhattan, Buffalo, Rochester and Albany on Sunday. Activists unhappy that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) and state lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage last month are calling for a statewide referendum.
Several hundred people crowded into the street across from Cuomo’s Manhattan office to protest the new law. They waved signs saying “Excommunicate Cuomo” and chanted “Let the people vote!”
“I’m here for God’s sake,” said Steve Rosner, 65, of the Lower East Side. “To sanctify same-sex marriage is an abomination. It’s beyond belief.”
Hundreds more protested on the steps of Buffalo’s City Hall and at the state Capitol in Albany.