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History unfolds in New York: A ‘watershed moment’ in the gay rights movement

History unfolds in New York: A ‘watershed moment’ in the gay rights movement

Updated: Sunday, 3:00 a.m. ET.

At 12:01 a.m., July 24, 2011, New York became the sixth and most populous U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage.

And just moments after the stroke of midnight, gay and lesbian couples said “I Do,” marking the beginning of a marathon day for officiants across the state, as hundreds of same-sex couples are expected to wed.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — who just 30 days ago signed the state’s Marriage Equality Act into law — issued an Executive Proclamation, declaring July 24, 2011 as a “Day to Commemorate Marriage Equality” in the Empire State.

“New York is the largest state in the country to end marriage discrimination. With this victory in New York, we have doubled the number of Americans who live in states with the freedom to marry. Together, we are changing hearts and minds and building the kind of successful campaign it will take to win marriage nationwide. …

“Winning the freedom to marry in New York is without a doubt a watershed moment for our country and our campaign.”

Evan Wolfson, President of Freedom to Marry.

In Niagara Falls, against a backdrop of rainbow illuminated cascades, Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd said their vows just after midnight. The women, who have five children and 12 grandchildren between them, have been together 12 years.

Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd (via: The New York Times)

“After a bell tolled 12 times to ring in the new day, Ms. Lambert, 54, and Ms. Rudd, 53, held hands and kissed in front of more than 100 friends and family members,” reported The New York Times.

“By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you legally married,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who performed the ceremony.

In Albany, Barb Laven and Dale Getto also stated their vows just moments after midnight in Albany’s City Hall, in the presence of 10 friends and family members watching.

Dale Getto and Barb Laven

The couple, together for 14 years, wore “I (Heart) NY” pins, each with a rainbow flag stuck in the middle of the heart symbol.

Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings performed the ceremony.

And as day breaks in the Empire state, officials from more than a dozen cities and towns will open their offices to issue marriage licenses on Sunday, and more than 100 judges across the state have volunteered to officiate at the couples’ weddings on the spot, waiving the usually mandatory 24-hour waiting period.

In New York City alone, 823 couples signed up in advance to get marriage licenses on Sunday, and many of them were expected to marry in city clerk’s offices across the five boroughs.

And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself will officiate a same-sex ceremony at Gracie Mansion on Sunday between two city officials — Consumer Aaffairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, and his partner of 14 years, Chief Policy Adviser John Feinblatt.

Not everyone, however, will be toasting champagne and eating wedding cake… The National Organization for Marriage and New York state Senator, and Reverend, Ruben Diaz Sr., will stage protests in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and in Manhattan.

New York joins five other states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — and the District of Columbia, in allowing same-sex couples to marry.

It is the third state (and the fourth jurisdiction including the District of Columbia) to enact marriage equality through the legislature, and with no state Supreme Court ruling requiring the legislature to enact such a law.

The percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry has now more than doubled, from 6.9 percent to 14.3 percent, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey by the Williams Institute of UCLA.

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