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Central Park’s Bethesda Angel looked out at scores of brides wreathed in crowns of fake white hydrangea and grooms in thrift-store formalwear.
“Enjoy the last two minutes of your marriage,” Rev. Billy Talen of the Church of Life After Shopping yelled, as on the most romantic day of the year the blissful couples prepared to negate their nuptials in solidarity with the same-sex marriage movement.
The happy twosomes — some married, some in long-term relationships — arranged themselves before a floral trellis. The theatrical activist and former mayoral candidate, who typically preaches an anti-consumerist gospel, then stepped forward to take a rather slushy pulpit, officiating the Valentine’s Day mass “unwedding.”
“Can I have a same-sex-elujah?” the Reverend bellowed, as his ashy blond pompadour bounced.
Delivering his Sunday sermon in “televangelist drag,” he excoriated the government for the absence of gays’ right to the rite.
He called marriage a “heterosexual vault.”
The ceremonious and symbolic action came on the heels of recent same-sex marriage bills defeats in New York and New Jersey, and as a California court readies to rule on a legal challenge to Proposition 8.
Chris Synder and Rebecca Stanton stood in the crowd before the Reverend, ready to trade “I don’ts.” Had the straight couple not been able to legally tie the knot eight and a half years ago, they would have been separated before this, since Stanton hails from New Zealand.
“We feel very deeply, how much would it suck if we had fallen in love and we were both of the same sex and I couldn’t have gotten a green card?” she reflected.
The 50 other couples assembled there felt much the same, and when the time came they looked into each others’ eyes, held hands, and halted their legal promises. Some already unmarried couples promised not to marry, in solidarity.
Leo Glickman and his wife Debbie Nabavian retracted their vows with a hope that marriage equality would be part of their three-year-old daughter’s future. “The idea that if she were gay she couldn’t enjoy the same rights and privileges and joys that her parents enjoy in marriage makes us angry and makes us want to support gay marriage,” Glickman said.
Clutching unmarriage certificates, couples said they would continue to fight for their gay and lesbian friends, whose enduring relationships lack the legal benefits that they enjoy. “After today, I’m just going back to Young,” joked Georgina Young-Ellis, who unmarried her husband Jonathan of 22-years.
She believed their unmarriage would last for a much briefer period of time.
“Once some people are out of office and other people in, this vote can happen,” she said encouragingly, as she held a single red rose in a handkerchief tied in a rainbow ribbon.
The push to bring same-sex marriage to another vote in New York, possibly in 2011, is already underway. “Marriage advocates are now focusing on giving those senators that voted no a message that they will be challenged in this election year,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, board president and communications director of Marriage Equality New York, as she stood alongside Reverend Billy and his choir
So far, the organization is targeting state senators Kenneth LaValle, of Long Island, and William T. Stachowski, of Buffalo, who voted against same-sex marriage in December, Marino-Thomas said. Marriage advocates also plan to support candidates running in Queens: one to fill retiring State Senator George Onorato’s position, the other to replace the embattled, expelled State Senator Hiram Monserrate.
But for now, the celebrants at Central Park turned towards each other to swap suspended vows.
Erica and James Southward, who were married by Reverend Billy at a Battery Park restaurant two years earlier, participated in order to pave the way for change.
“A lot of this is based on the very selective readings of arcane texts,” the bridegroom said. “I would like everyone who is against gay marriage to also stop eating shrimp because that’s also banned in the same section.”
After an hour-long ceremony, which included the Reverend’s emphatic preaching, the choir singing the First Amendment as a psalm, and dancing to gospel music, the time arrived for the exchange of vows. The couples honored each other and proclaimed their love, but committed to staying unmarried until marriage equality was achieved. The grooms then kissed their brides.
They also held an informal reception. A choir member clutched a wicker basket of “Prop Ate Cookies” and offered the refreshment to the newly-unweds.
Marnie Glickman and Gary Ruskin, who had halted their vows, took a few cookies. The pair was famished since they arrived at the airport earlier today, traveling all the way from California to participate.
“It’s an especially sweet tasting ‘Prop Ate Cookie,'”Ruskin said as he took a bite. “It’s the best ‘Prop Ate Cookie’ I’ve tasted in my entire life.”