New York state ushers in marriage equality

August 4, 2011
By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter
The marriage equality movement enjoyed a burst of new energy on Sunday, July 24, as jubilant same-sex couples across New York state began marrying under a new law that took effect at midnight.

From Niagara Falls to Albany to New York City hundreds of gay couples applied for marriage licenses – and wed.

New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who is openly gay, told NBC Nightly News, “Today those families were told they matter and that the state of New York cares about them as much as anyone else.”

The first couple to marry under the new law was Kitty Lambert, 54, and Cheryle Rudd, 53, of Buffalo, who exchanged vows in a religious ceremony at honeymoon famous Niagara Falls – shortly after midnight.

In New York City alone, all 823 couples, who registered through a lottery system, were granted marriage licenses. City clerks’ offices opened in all five boroughs with judges on hand to officiate and to waiver the state’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period between licensure and wedding ceremony. By day’s end, 659 couples had picked up their licenses and 484 wed in city marriage bureaus, according to the _New York Times_.

The first couple to marry legally in the city was Phyllis Siegel, 77, and Connie Kopelov, 85. The Chelsea couple has been together for 23 years.

Even the mayor got into the act Sunday afternoon. On the lawn of Gracie Mansion, his official residence, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg officiated the wedding of his chief policy adviser, John Feinblatt, 60, and Jonathan Mintz, 47, the city’s commissioner for consumer affairs.

Notwithstanding the initial rush of same-sex marriages, other couples are waiting for the just the right time. One couple is Philip Trzynka, 52, and Brett Henry, 52, of New York City.

Trzynka hales from Ft. Wayne, Ind., and is an ordained minister of word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He currently serves as pastor of Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran.

Henry grew up outside of Chicago in the suburb of Glen Ellyn and works in sales for Federal Express. Before moving to New York, Henry lived in San Francisco from 1978 to 1989. He moved to California shortly after visiting a lesbian cousin, who took the then high school student and his sister on a tour of the Castro and told them, “This is where gay people from all over the country are coming to live and are accepted.”

The couple met in September, 2000 at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in New York City. In 2006, they celebrated two religious commitment ceremonies, one in Glen Ellyn, the other in their Manhattan home parish on Oct. 7, 2006.

At the time, “We decided it was important to us that our family and friends were able to publicly hear about our commitment to each other and were able to show their support for our relationship,” Rev. Trzynka said.

“I think, like most couples, we wanted our families and our church to give us a sign of support and acceptance of who we are and the family we were creating,” he added.

In 2008, the couple adopted a then eight-year-old son, Joey.

“Our reason for wanting a civil ceremony in New York is the same as it was when we had our religious ceremonies. We want to give our family the opportunity to receive a sign of support and acceptance from the state in which we live and have grown to love,” Trzynka explained.

“Of course, we also desire the protections and safeguards that legal recognition of the state can give our family,” he said. Now with New York’s support, “We feel home.”

The couple has tentative plans to celebrate civil marriage this coming Oct. 7 – five years to the date of their religious commitment ceremony.

New York is the third state to legalize gay marriage by legislative action. The other two are New Hampshire and Vermont.

On June 15, New York’s Democratic-held Assembly voted 80 – 63 in favor of the gay marriage bill. On June 24, the Republican-led Senate passed it by a vote of 33 – 29. Immediately, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who championed the bill, signed the measure into law, which required a 30-day waiting period before taking effect.

The legislative victory breathed new life into marriage equality advocates after attempts to enact same-sex marriage fizzled in Maryland and Rhode Island.

The win in New York is indeed a big one. The state, the nation’s third most populous, joins five other states – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire Vermont – and the District of Columbia in allowing gays to wed.

Altogether, New York’s population of 19 million is greater than the combined total of those five plus the nation’s capital. With New York now among the marriage-equality fold, the number of Americans living same-sex marriage states more than doubles – from 16 million to 35 million people.

Sure enough, marriage equality is secure in New York. Unlike California and other states with referendum and initiative provisions, New York law does not permit voters to repeal at the ballot box statues approved by the legislature.  Amending the state Constitution is a cumbersome process requiring approval twice in two legislative sessions, one before and one after a biennial election of the Assembly.  Only then would a proposed amendment banning same-sex marriage go before voters.

Still, New York’s Marriage Equality Act is unique insofar as it has the most extensive religious exemptions of any gay-marriage law so far enacted. For example, the law makes explicit that no member of the clergy is required to marry a same-sex couple.


NY Marriage continued

In addition, the Marriage Equality Act and other New York law exempt religious organizations and “benevolent orders,” like the Knights of Columbus, from non-discrimination requirements of public accommodations, for instance, commercial banquet halls.

As lawmakers in Albany, the state capital, debated marriage equality, media gave extensive coverage to church opposition to it and to detractors’ insistence on exemptions to protect religious liberties.

Rev. Trzynka voiced frustration over the media. “Much of the news coverage made it feel as though religious people were against [same-sex] marriage – period!” he said, adding, the media gave the impression, moreover, that “‘the church’” wanted religious exemptions “so that it did not have to support gay marriage in any way.”

Trzynka knew differently, he said, referring to his own denomination and pastors’ support of marriage equality, as well as backing from Episcopal priests, United Church of Christ pastors and Presbyterian clergy.

Partly out of frustration, he explained, “I decided to put out a sign in front of our church, saying that here at Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish, the pastor – me – would perform free LGBT marriages for the coming year.”

Apparently, “It got a lot of buzz,” Trzynka said. “I hope it caused people to hear again that many religious people believe God loves to bless such marriages.”

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