Empire State Building hosts first same-sex weddings

NEW YORK Tue Feb 14, 2012 6:20pm EST

1 of 10. Phil Fung (R) holds hands with Shawn Klein, his life-partner of 18 years, during their marriage ceremony on the 61st floor of the Empire State Building in New York, February, 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Burton

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lucky couples have been married each year on Valentine Day's on the top of the Empire State Building for nearly two decades but this year for the first time two same sex couples said "I do" at the iconic New York landmark.

The sky-high nuptials on Tuesday followed the legalization of gay marriage in June when Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the law making New York the sixth, and most populous U.S. state, to approve gays and lesbians to wed.

"We just thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to get married on top of the Empire State building, especially since it is the first year that gay marriage is allowed," said Phil Fung, a 49-year-old product manager at a financial services firm who wed his partner Shawn Klein, 51, a hospital administrator.

The couple, who live in New York, met 18 years ago at The Roxy, a famous Manhattan nightclub, and have been together ever since.

"It was love at first sight," said Fung. "We have been talking about getting married now that gay marriage was passed in New York state and friends of ours told us about the contest."

They will be among an estimated 21,000 gay and lesbian couples from New York who are expected to marry within the first three years of the law passing and nearly 42,000 from out of state who will pick New York for a destination wedding, according to a report by the Independent Democratic Conference.

Fung and Klein are among the select few chosen to exchange vows 61 floors up in the sky. They were one of four couples selected from hundreds of applicants this year from around the country who submitted a video to win their dream wedding at the Empire State Building that was completed in 1930 and is visited by 3.5 million people each year.

Both have visited the 102-floor landmark but it was be a first-time experience for some of their guests, including many relatives of South Dakota-born Klein, who is one of 13 children. Eleven members of his family planned to make their first trip to New York for the ceremony.

For Alaskan Steph Figarelle, 29 and her partner Lela McArthur, 24, it was the wedding and trip of a lifetime.

"The Empire State Building to us in Alaska is like going to Egypt to look at the pyramids. That's what makes it special," said Figarelle,

"It stands for many things," she added. "Getting married there sets the tone for our lives together."

Alaska is among the more than 40 U.S. states where same-sex marriage is not recognized. The couple, who are both personal trainers who met while students at the University of Alaska, had been planning to marry in New York when Figarelle spotted the contest to wed at the Empire State Building while searching for wedding venues in New York.

"It was a shot in the dark," said Figarelle, adding that her mother, and her brother from Montana were due to attend the ceremony.

As part of their winnings each couple received a customized wedding, gown and tuxedo and a two-night stay at the Pierre Hotel in New York. Same-sex marriage is expected to generate an estimated $284 million for the state economy, according to the Independent Democratic Conference report.

(Editing by Jill Serjeant)

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