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Celebration and trepidation as NY approves gay marriage

By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News, New York

image captionGeorge Constantinou (L) and Farid Ali Lancheros are expecting twins

For same-sex couples across New York, this is a day to celebrate.

Jo-Ann Shain and her partner Mary Jo Kennedy have been together for 29 years and have a daughter. Now, finally, they can get married.

"We've lived as if we were married," says Ms Shain, who's 58 and lives in Brooklyn, "but this makes it so much more real.

"Finally we can stand in front of our friends and family and reaffirm our commitment." The couple plan to be married by a friend who is a judge.

George Constantinou and Farid Ali Lancheros are expecting twins via a surrogate mother.

"We're 16 weeks pregnant," says Mr Constantinou, who runs a bistro in Brooklyn, "and now we can get married.

"It's so exciting. I never thought I would see this day. I grew up knowing I was gay and wanting to get married and have children.

"I've been to so many heterosexual weddings, and now I look forward to inviting my heterosexual friends to our wedding."

For Ms Shain and Mr Constantinou, the legalisation of same-sex marriage in New York is a matter of civil rights.

"I have the right to vote, to pay taxes. Give me the same rights as my heterosexual neighbour," says Mr Constantinou.


But for opponents of same-sex marriage, this is an ominous redefinition of the institution, forced by New York lawmakers upon their constituents.

image captionA lesbian couple celebrates the senate vote at New York's Stonewall Inn

"People wanted to be able to vote on this directly," insists Brian Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage.

"There's something unique and special about marriage between a man and a woman. Only the union of a man and a woman can create new life."

Mr Brown says a "profound and irreconcilable conflict" has now been created with the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

"We have a redefinition of marriage in which those of us who disagree are treated as bigots."

Mr Brown cites the case of the Catholic Church in Washington, DC, where same-sex marriage is legal.

He says the church there has been told it's discriminatory not to place children for adoption or fostering with same-sex couples.

The Catholic Church does not recognise same-sex marriage.

"The Church is going to be punished for its belief that marriage is between a man and a woman," says Mr Brown.

In New York, lawmakers sought protection for religious organisations that don't believe in same-sex marriage, so they could carry out their mission without the risk of legal action.

The Reverend Monsignor Kieran Harrington, a Catholic priest in Brooklyn, says it's the underlying principle of this new law which he finds offensive.

"What we find repugnant is that this is being described as a civil rights issue," he says.

"African-Americans weren't allowed to use the same fountains as white people. There were lynchings.

"The civil rights legislation was a reaction to this very real level of discrimination.

"If you say it's a civil rights issue, then the state uses the coercive means at its disposal."

Monsignor Harrington fears that those New Yorkers who disagree with same-sex marriage will now be portrayed as prejudiced.

As opponents of the new law reflect upon its implications, Mr Constantinou is realising that this year he will not only become a parent but could now marry his partner.

A late-night vote in Albany has granted him the acceptance he lacked for so long from society.

"We're going to make it better for the next generation," says Mr Constantinou.

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