US & Canada

Wedding joy for New York same-sex couples

The city clerk's office in Manhattan has never seen a day quite like this: Cheers, tears of joy and much festivity and jubilation as same sex couples in New York were able to marry legally for the first time.

Elise Barcolas and her partner Jenna Glazer stood patiently in line, Elise in a magenta satin dress and Jenna in a purple floral print, hoping for a day of double firsts.

Elise's brother Eric and his partner Michael stood right behind them, dressed identically in white linen shirts and wrap-around sunglasses.

"We might be the first same sex sibling double wedding in New York state," said Elise excitedly.

Elise and Eric's mother, Stella Barcolas, queued for more than three hours to see her children married.

"I'm ecstatic," Stella told me, "I wish them the very best, they're wonderful. This doesn't affect anybody else's life, they have the same rights and privileges as other people."

'Wedding Belles'

The atmosphere in the queue was celebratory, the mood not affected by the heavy heat of a sultry July Sunday in the city.

Image caption The celebratory mood was not dampened by the heavy heat of a sultry July Sunday

"Thank you New York" read one placard, "Wedding Belles" read another. Couples clutched their bouquets, and scanned the skies anxiously for signs of rain.

Amber Weiss and Sharon Papo dressed as Lady Liberty and Justice, carrying their baby son Skyler.

"We're just here to celebrate, we're already married and we came here from San Francisco to be part of this," said Sharon as a Kate Middleton look-alike bride passed her in the snaking queue.

Inside, there were shrieks of excitement and rounds of clapping as married couples emerged from the city clerk's chamber. Two newly married women wore matching T-shirts emblazoned with the single word "Wifey".

It was a day Raymond Wapner and Peter Courmont, who have been together for 37 years, never thought they would see.

They lined up, floral garlands around their necks, wanting to marry and be part of history.

Raymond hopes it will not be long before the Federal Government also recognizes same sex marriages.

"When one of us dies, the other cannot have access to the other's social security benefits," he said. " I don't know if that change will come in my lifetime, but I hope so."

Polarising issue

New York is the sixth and largest state in America to legalise same sex marriage - joining Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut (as well as Washington DC).

Yet the national Defense of Marriage Act means same sex couples do not get the same legal recognition as heterosexual married couples.

While same-sex married couples can file a joint tax return in New York State, and be eligible for tax breaks, they will not be able to file a joint federal tax return.

Adam McKew, an Iraq war veteran, who stood outside the city clerk's office waiting to marry his partner David Lewis, believes change is in the air.

"So much is moving, New York legalizing same sex marriage, the end of don't ask don't tell in the military, it won't be long before DOMA (the Defence of Marriage Act) goes too," he said.

Opponents of same-sex marriage criticise what they see as a redefinition of the institution. Protests were organised around New York to mark this day.

Same-sex marriage is a politically polarising issue; in the first debate for prospective Republican candidates for next year's presidential election, there was support for a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages.

Shantell Dorsey and Elisa Lindsey know there is little prospect of their home state, Georgia, legalising gay marriage any time soon. So the two young African American women, who are raising four children together, came here to New York to marry.

"We love each other and we want to be together," said Shantell, as she and Elisa linked arms.

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