NEW YORK – Hundreds of couples are expected to take advantage of the new gay marriage law in New York which takes effect today.
Over 800 gay and lesbian couples are slated to be married today in New York City alone. City officials opened a marriage lottery for the 764 wedding slots available Sunday but announced Thursday that they anticipated to accommodate all who applied.
Chelsea residents Phyllis Siegel, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, were the first same-sex couple to wed in New York City. A city clerk at the Manhattan office married the lesbian couple Sunday morning at 9:02 a.m.
The first gay marriage in New York was reportedly performed at Albany's City Hall at 12 a.m. Democratic Mayor Gerald D. Jennings performed the marriage ceremony for a gay couple, Harold Lohner and Al Martino, both 53. Justice Joseph C. Teresi of New York State Supreme Court officiated.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who strongly advocated for the gay marriage law, will also be marrying two of his gay senior aides today. He will preside over the marriage of his chief policy adviser, John Feinblatt, and his Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, Jonathan Mintz.
Gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry on July 24 must first apply for a marriage license and obtain a judicial waiver before they can have a city clerk officiate their marriage. Without a judicial waiver, couples must wait 24 hours after obtaining a marriage license to marry.
New York became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage after the Marriage Equality Act was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 24.
Gay marriage advocates have hailed the passage of the law as "historic" while opponents of the legislation have called the legalization of gay marriage "tragic," saying that it undermines the sanctity of marriage and would violate the religious freedoms of individuals who don't want to service married gay couples.
Two town clerks have already resigned because they said giving gay marriage licenses would violate their Christian beliefs.
Cuomo has said that clerks who don't want to perform same-sex marriage should find other work.
"You don't get to say, 'I like this law and I'll enforce this law, or I don't like this law and I won't enforce this law'-you can't do that.” Cuomo stated. “If you can't enforce the law, then you shouldn't be in that position."
Gay marriage opponents are staging rallies throughout New York Sunday to protest the new law. National Organization for Marriage, a traditional marriage advocacy group that is organizing the multi-city protests, argues that the politicians legalized gay marriage without considering the voice of the people.
“Throw out politicians who care more about lining their pockets with campaign contributions from gay millionaires than listening to the voices of everyday voters like you and me,” NOM President Brian Brown told supporters in an email last week.
Participants of the "Let the People Vote" rallies – which will be held at Gov. Cuomo's office in Manhattan and in Albany, Buffalo and Rochester – are demanding a statewide referendum to put the gay marriage issue before voters. All rallies will begin at 3 p.m.
Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz, the lone Democrat to vote against the gay marriage bill, has urged New Yorkers to attend the Manhattan rally.
"This Sunday a thousand people will demonstrate in midtown to let Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg know that even though the same-sex marriage law was approved by the legislature we will not be silenced!" he stated.
There will also be live streaming of all four protests on the rally's main website: www.letthepeoplevote.com.
Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for protesting the funerals of U.S. soldiers, will be also be protesting the gay marriage law Sunday. The group, based in Topeka, Kansas, plans to send picketers to city marriage bureaus and Gov. Cuomo's office.