Today, the first Saturday after gay marriages began in New York City, 24 same-sex couples will marry in Central Park at Merchant’s Gate, on the corner of 59th Street and Central Park West. The Pop Up Chapel was an idea born among friends — including local software developer Josh French, Gothamist editor Jen Carlson, writers Lindsay Robertson and Tyler Coates, and legal minister Bex Schwartz, whose day job is as a writer and director — in the wave of excitement over gay marriage passing on the evening of June 24. Now it’s actually happening! We spoke with Schwartz, as well as Anja Winikka of the Knot, which is acting as wedding planner for the event, and one of the couples who will be married there this evening, Dese’rae L. Stage and Katie Marks, who are, respectively, a photographer and a licensed massage therapist. They’re both 28.
Stage told us, “We were already planning a wedding in Boston, that’s next year. We found out they were working on passing this law, and we thought, If this really happens maybe we should just get married. We sent Pop Up Chapel a message and said we were interested.
“We’ve picked our closest local friends and a couple of friends are coming from Miami to see the ceremony. And we’re still doing Boston next year, so our parents can come. It was kind of one of those things, to be a part of history…
“We’re wearing the most obnoxious outfits in the world! [Katie] got a magenta, not traditional, dress. I’m wearing skinny jeans, a vest, and pink Chuck Taylors. We just wanted to go fun. They’re giving us everything free, from cupcakes to wine to the officiant to the photographers.”
As for how they met…well, it happened on the Internet. “We’ve known each other since we were 12, and went to middle school and high school together,” said Stage. “We weren’t friends, but in 2008, we connected through the Internet. We went from sending each other messages to texting to phone calls. We’re both from Miami, but she was still there, and I went down and visited and was like, Maybe this is going to be important. She moved up in April 2009.”
Pop Up Chapel will feature 23 more such adorable couples, with weddings happening all day long from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. in chapels specially designed for the occasion. (One is called “Kiss,” made from honeycomb cardboard, resembling an open helix. The other consists of rainbow-colored ribbons.) Throughout the day ceremonies will be interspersed by performances from Tony Award nominee and Broadway Impact co-founder Rory O’Malley (The Book of Mormon), Broadway star Elizabeth Stanley (Cry Baby, Million Dollar Quartet), singer/songwriter Mike Doughty, and actor/comedian/host/emcee Dave Holmes.
Of the Knot’s involvement, Winnika told us, “We’ve always had gay weddings content on our site, and as soon as the legislation passed, we knew we had to do something. We jumped right in to Pop Up. Basically, we’re the wedding planner. Everything is free of charge; there’s the photographer, the bubbly, witnesses — each couple has up to 12 guests, and, of course, wedding cupcakes — they get 12 cupcakes for their guests, and one large one to cut and share, in their choice of flavors.” (Flavors include red velvet, chocolate with chocolate frosting, and yellow cake, among the various combinations.)
“It’s a lot of coordination, one wedding times 24,” said Winnika. “I think it’s going to be really pretty.”
Bex Schwartz, who will be officiating a couple of the weddings herself, told us, “We’re this scrappy gang of people with day jobs; we didn’t know what would go into this. Everyone’s been so supportive. The Knot came to us. David Stark came to us to help with flowers. We had competitions to design the chapels. We haven’t really had to ask.”
Yet, for a scrappy gang of people, helped by volunteers numbering in the hundreds, things seem pretty organized. Schwartz said, of today, “People will arrive, check in, and be assigned to their chapel. They can meet with our stylists. Then the couples will gather and walk down the aisle. Each ceremony will be around 15 minutes long.” There are 14 volunteer officiants, including Schwartz, and couples have been assigned their slots based on religious preferences as well as their personal backgrounds, which vary wildly, as do their ages — ranging from 23 to 60-something — and residences — from the Bronx to Westchester to Manhattan to out of state.
“It’s really a Benetton ad of diversity,” said Schwartz. One of the couples she’ll marry today has a Jewish Buddhist background, like her own. So, how does it feel to have this all come together?
“I haven’t really thought about it, but I don’t have any time!” she said. “I’m really blown away. So much time is spent saying, I should do this thing, and then you never do it. Here’s an idea that began on a tipsy celebration and it’s really happening…It wouldn’t be possible without the support of New York City. I’m so happy to do something to support the fact that all New Yorkers are considered equal.”
As Stage wrote in her wedding questionnaire (all couples filled one out so Pop Up could arrange a ceremony to their tastes):
I will say that even though we’re the two most opposite people I’ve known, I have never, ever felt so unconditionally loved in my life. A lot of people have trouble understanding our humor and the bluntness we each carry as a defense, but Katie is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. When she loves you, she means it, and you know it. No matter how many circles we talk ourselves into, Katie always has this way of shoring us up and bringing us back to the simplest truth: that we love one another, and that we’re a team.
“This is going to be the no-stress wedding,” she said on the phone with us earlier this month.