Brooklyn was number two when it came to the number of weddings it planned to perform yesterday. With 109 lottery winning couples registered in the morning, it was a distant second to Manhattan’s planned 459 weddings (of the 823 the city was anticipating through out of the five boroughs.)
Yet from the lines forming in the dawn light in front of Borough Hall, it was obvious that Brooklyn was second to no one for those waiting to get married. And that was especially true for Barbara Pilgrim and Geraldine Whitsett, who’d been waiting to get married since they met in 1953, over 48 years ago.
Barbara, 82, and Geraldine, 76, both Brooklyn natives, were the first couple in line, getting to the Marriage Bureau before the earliest rays of the scorching sun. “We’re here to get married!” Geraldine said, noting, “We’d thought of going to Connecticut, but that was too far away.”
Barbara, an out lesbian for six decades, said, “I feel good about it because at least people will realize that everybody is a human being. We pay our taxes. We obey the law, and we should have the same rights as everybody else.”
The mood was jubilant and boisterous on Joralemon street, as an army of city employees held an NYPD style roll call anticipating the big day, while the happy couples began lining up. Once their meeting was done, the city workers fanned out to attend to the soon-to-be newlyweds, acting as if they were production assistants catering to movie stars on a location film set.
It was one of those bewilderingly rare occasions where everyone had nothing but good things to say about city government. “We just called 311,” to set up their wedding, Barbara said, noting it was the most valuable phone call she’d ever made. “Everyone was so nice.” Indeed, from the volunteer judges — more than one fighting back or actually shedding tears — who began walking the waiting line to meet the people they’d soon wed, to dignitaries like Speaker Christine Quinn and Borough President Marty Markowitz shaking hands, to every level of administration and security working overtime on a Sunday, the government workers acted with class, dignity, and grace. (Even before they’d arrived, all 823 couples in the lottery had been individually called by a city worker.)
Alex Bertrand and Jeremy Price were grateful that “instead of having to plan a trip to go to Canada, we could just hop in our car and go downtown.”
Once inside the building, there was some tension as people actually had to go through their paperwork. Barbara and Geraldine ended up not being the very first couple to wed, after some administrative questions about their paperwork. (That couple, Michael Furey and Bienvenido Amagna, were incredibly shy, and though they eventually told reporters their names, they declined to give us their email addresses, even though we shot the only video of the their moment in Brooklyn history, because they were “scared of getting spam or viruses.”)
Still, as couples waited for their turn in the judges’ “chambers” (makeshift rooms had been been created by hanging fabric from the ceiling in various offices), the mood was party-like. Everyone cooed and awed at Steve Landis and Julie Irwin’s twins they had brought to be volunteer flower girls. Couples served as legal witnesses for other couples, even though they were strangers. There was great deference paid to giving comfort and aid to those who’d been standing a long time (and waiting decades more to get married) like Barbara and Geraldine, or Judith and her Stonewall vet wife Mickey.
And everyone was laughing and making jokes, even when the few straight couples got married.
It was one of those rare days where every New Yorker could make eye contact with any other New Yorker — and did — and smile knowingly, acknowledging to each other that there was an undeniable, irrepressible joy coming out of both of you that you couldn’t be held inside.
We went to four different weddings before four different judges, and were touched by how different each “chamber” was. The judge, the court officer, and the administrative staff all were working so hard to make each couple feel on top of the world and not feel like they were cattle in a process that had to keep moving along.
For us, the funniest moment came after an unexpectedly sweet one. We ran into dear old friends of ours, Renee Boyd and Kelebohile Nkhereanye, who were getting hitched and got to watch their ceremony. (Their judge was wonderful and, although most people butcher the pronunciation of Kelebohile’s name, he nailed it and declared, “It’s like a beautiful song!”)
When they left the building and were thronged by reporters, a man started asking Renee why she wasn’t attracted to him. Not only was the lesbian newlywed being asked this inexplicably by a man with a video camera in her face, but he was pretty fat and ugly, too. Turns out he was a shock jock, and in quick order Renee kicked him in the ass (literally!) and the NYPD chased him away. He scampered down the street like a rat.
Ben Smith of Politico reports the city actually performed only 484 weddings yesterday, falling short of the record. (NOM will no doubt try to make hay of this, as they like to bash gays and lesbians for wanting to get married and then hate on them for not doing it enough.) But true to their word in their roll call in the morning, the Brooklyn Marriage Bureau married everyone from the lottery (109 couples), and accommodated some walk-ins, for a total of 121.
Like many events where you could plug in this comparison, Brooklyn’s roll out of same-sex marriage was every bit as exciting as its Manhattan counterpart, but just a little less crowded and chaotic, and a little more hip and chill.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 25, 2011