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.
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.
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 NYmarriageNOW.org and Marriage Equality (marriageequalityny.org) 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.