Gays Need Not Apply

"Marry us, Mike": Nick Schall (left) and Marc-Anthony Macon (right), partners for five years, in line outside the Marriage License Bureau on March 4
photos by Danial Adkison

NEW YORK CITY, MARCH 4—Armed with birth certificates, photo IDs, and a $35 money order, 29-year-old Marc-Anthony Macon and 25-year-old Nick Schall lined up outside City Hall in the cold rain this morning to fight for a legal marriage. They joined about 60 other gay and lesbian couples waiting to enter the Marriage License Bureau, while across the street hundreds of placard-toting protesters rallied for their cause (video).

But when Marc-Anthony and Nick arrived at the clerk's window, requested a license, and showed their IDs, First Deputy City Clerk Michael McSweeney gave them a scripted, sterile response: "Unfortunately, at this time we cannot offer you a marriage license. We can, however, offer you a domestic partner application." Instead of handing them the marriage license application, McSweeney presented them and the other couples with a 50-page sheaf of documents that included letters from City Clerk Victor Robles, correspondence from the city legal counsel, the opinion on same-sex marriage issued yesterday by State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and a Lexis printout of a 1996 Ithaca court ruling that barred two men from marrying.

"Are you married?" asked Marc-Anthony, trying to melt McSweeney's icy demeanor.

"No, sir, I am not," the clerk replied and moved on to the next couple.

Marc-Anthony and his partner of five years exited through a side door. "Even expecting [the denial], it was so clinical and inhuman," Marc-Anthony said. "The guy showed no emotion. He was like a cyborg."

Almost nobody today believed that New York would agree to follow the lead of other municipalities—San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; and Nyack and New Paltz, New York—in issuing gay couples marriage licenses, especially after Spitzer claimed that the language of the state Domestic Relations Law does not allow same-sex marriage. Yesterday, New Paltz mayor Jason West was charged with 19 misdemeanor counts of solemnizing marriages without licenses.

Still, the emotional impact of being turned away packed a wallop. It hit Nick as he rode the subway to work.

No dice: First Deputy City Clerk Michael McSweeney refuses to give Nick (left) and Marc-Anthony an application for a marriage license.

"My heart is broken today, not only because I was denied the marriage license, but because this city that I know, love, and have been a part of for five years has denied me one of my most basic civil rights. It took them 50 pages to tell me why I couldn't marry, but only 30 seconds to break my heart," he wrote in an e-mail.

As couples filtered over to the demonstration in City Hall Park, news of the denials reached protesters, who shouted "shame" and pointed fingers toward City Hall, while a woman displayed a sign counting the 794 days Bloomberg has been in office without yet addressing the question of same-sex marriage.

"It's sad that New York is so far behind San Francisco and Portland," said Nick. Marc-Anthony finished his partner's thought: "It just seems so sad that this place would not be leading it."

Organizers from and Marriage Equality ( say they plan to keep up the pressure by sending at least one same-sex couple to the bureau every day to request a marriage license application, until the city agrees to issue one.

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