Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples dressed in formal suits, gowns and T-shirts recited vows in emotion-choked voices and triumphantly hoisted their long-awaited marriage certificates Sunday as New York became the sixth and largest state to recognize same-sex weddings.
Couples began saying "I do" at midnight from Niagara Falls to Long Island, though New York City became the sometimes raucous center of action by daybreak Sunday as couples waited on a sweltering day for the chance to exchange vows at the city clerk's office.
Thousands of protesters rallied in several cities around the state, a signal that the long fight for recognition may not be over.
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. 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.
Connie Kopelov (front left), 85, and Phyllis Siegel, 77, are first in line to marry
at the Manhattan city clerk's office.
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. 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," Siegel said after the ceremony. "It's mind-boggling, the fact that it's happening to us - that we are finally legal and can do this like everyone else."
New York's adoption 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 Washington, D.C., when it voted last month to legalize same-sex marriage.
Lino Caminha-Strandquist (left) and Luke Strandquist-Caminha celebrate after marrying.
The day began with some couples exchanging vows right after midnight. In Niagara Falls, gay rights activists Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd were legally married the first moment they could be during a midnight ceremony.
With the rainbow-lit falls as a backdrop, Lambert, 54, and Rudd, 53, were among the first gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot with the blessing of the state. Lambert and Rudd, who have 12 grandchildren between them, have been together for more than a decade and had long been fighting for the right to marry.
A crowd of several hundred people cheered as the couple, both from Buffalo, were pronounced married and shared a kiss.
"What an incredible night this was," said Lambert, who wore an electric blue satin gown with a sequined train for the ceremony and carried a bouquet of blue hydrangeas. "Everything was absolutely perfect."