Equality

Calm in Queens on First Day of Gay Marriage in New York

by

At Queens Borough Hall yesterday morning, a city hall volunteer strode across an almost empty plaza with phone in hand to show a colleague a photo of a raucous crowd. “Manhattan!” he said, as he shook his head in disbelief and laughed. The scene at Kew Gardens on Sunday, the first day of gay marriage in New York State, was considerably calmer. After an early rush, few couples had to stand in line outside for more than several minutes before being ushered in to start paperwork.

In anticipation of Sunday, the borough had made 112 slots available for full marriages. 91 couples had applied to be married in Queens today through the lottery, and the remaining spots were opened up to other applicants. But business was slower than expected: By the end of the day, the city gave out 89 licenses and conducted 66 marriages in Queens, including a few walk-ins. Most couples seemed grateful for the quiet, no-drama pace at the Hall — they had plans to celebrate all day with family.

Doors officially opened at 8:30 a.m. Greg Levine, 32 and Shane Serkiz, 33, teachers from Astoria, were the first same-sex couple to get married in Queens. They met through friends at SUNY Binghamton, have been together for 12 years, and were engaged in 1999. Levine and Serkiz are both teachers, and Serkiz said: “I hope this makes it easier for a lot of gay and lesbian youth.” They’d arrived at 7 a.m., and were surprised there was no one ahead of them: “We figured there’d be a long line,” Levine said.

Desiree Bussell, 21, and Katrice Shelton, 31 from Jamaica, Queens, have been together for two years. They first met through mutual friends when Bussell returned from serving in the military in Virginia. (On DADT: Bussell said it didn’t matter to her that much personally: “I was going to be who I was. I wasn’t going to change.”)

Bussell proposed to Shelton February of last year. They were going to marry in January 2012, and had planned on going to another state before gay marriage was legalized in New York. Both of them could barely talk or answer any questions. “I’m so nervous,” Bussell said, and Shelton nodded her head in agreement, unable to speak.

Couples from other boroughs, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and even Texas had taken advantage of the extra available slots to get hitched yesterday — and a few straight couples passed through, too. Carl and Robert Hayden (they’d had a wedding in California on the beach 18 years ago), both wearing white, live on 57th Street of Manhattan. They said they’d been given the option of going to Queens, Bronx, or Staten Island. They immediately went with Queens. “Queens is easy!” Carl said.

Lynn Schulman, an executive at Woodhull Medical in Brooklyn, was a volunteer staff member for the city at Queens yesterday. “Just being part of history, it’s so personal — to be able to witness a ceremony, to see the diversity of the couples, the excitement of judges and staff. It’s great,” she said. But Schulman and Adelaide Connaughton, her partner of 22 years, have decided not to tie the knot yet. They’re waiting to see what happens on a federal level with DOMA.

A few local entrepreneurs braved the heat and lingered briefly, then left: Two young photographers with a makeshift sign stood outside by the entrance; a woman and her fiance, who owns a restaurant across the street, handed out menus and offered a free bottle of champagne with the order of three entrees; and two women, dressed for the occasion, camped out by the front entrance to remind couples to sign up for life insurance.

Though there were eight police officers on hand, and a large section of grass cordoned off for protestors, none appeared. When a police lieutenant said they’d prepared for the worst but hadn’t heard of any concrete plans for demonstration, someone standing nearby chimed in: “Queens is a happy place!”

And there was one dedicated well-wisher who for hours sat outside and held up a pink-neon sign flanked by American and rainbow flags, as he waited at the exit for the newlyweds. Jim Rescigna, 69, of Jackson Heights, had arrived at 8:30 to cheer on the couples, because he was “just happy.” He wore a make-shift tux, but he wasn’t getting married yesterday. His partner of 20 years, Jack, had passed away before they could see gay marriage legalized in New York. “It’s about time, it’s just a wonderful thing,” he said.