* New York begins marrying same-sex couples
* Boosts momentum for passage in other states
* Activists focus on federal marriage law
* Protesters vow retribution at next election
(Recasts, adds details)
By Basil Katz
NEW YORK, July 24 Wedding fever hit New York on
Sunday, as hundreds of gay and lesbian couples married on the
first day that same-sex marriage became legal in the state.
The marriages across New York, the nation's sixth, and
largest, state to allow gay marriages prompted calls from
activists and officials to repeal a federal law defining
marriage as between a man and a woman.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had pushed for
same-sex marriage, officiated personally at the marriage of two
men belonging to his City Hall inner circle on Sunday evening
at Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence.
"Today in this city and in this state, history takes an
important step forward by allowing every person to
participate," Bloomberg said as he married John Feinblatt and
Jonathan Mintz, accompanied by their daughters at the podium.
"Therefore by the powers vested in me by the state of New
York, I pronounce you both married."
City officials said a record-breaking 659 couples, all five
boroughs combined, braved a summer heat wave and long lines to
obtain their marriage licenses.
"I think that is going to cause huge ripples and waves that
will move marriage equality much more quickly for the rest of
the country," New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
Quinn, who said she had begun planning her own wedding with
longtime partner Kim Catullo, called the marriages a triumph
for human rights.
"Marriage equality is alive and well in every borough in
New York City."
The day of marriages began in western New York, where two
grandmothers became the state's first legally wed same-sex
couple, one month after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the law
into effect. [ID:nN1E76L0G3]
Kitty Lambert, 54, and Cheryle Rudd, 53, from Buffalo, New
York, were married just after midnight at Niagara Falls' State
Park's Luna Island, with the traditional honeymoon capital
Niagara Falls as a backdrop.
Lambert, an art gallery manager, choked up during the
religious service, answering "Yes, yes, yes!" when asked if she
was making the choice of her own free will.
"We're achieving that real American dream to be treated
like everybody else and be protected under all those laws,"
Lambert said later.
The women danced on stage after being married to pop star
Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory."
In New York City, couples and their families and friends
formed a line around the block to be married at Manhattan's
The first to be wed were Phyllis Siegel, 77, and Connie
Kopelov, 85. The couple, who have been together for 23 years,
emerged triumphant from the city clerk's office, and Kopelov,
in a wheelchair, brandished their marriage certificate as a
crowd of supporters cheered.
"I am breathless," Siegel said. "I am happy."
Officials, expecting a rush of gay couples wanting to get
married, initially set a lottery capping the number of
marriages on Sunday to 764 couples but later accepted all 823
couples across all five city boroughs.
Douglas Robinson, 60, and Michael Elsasser, 56, said they
were particularly happy because their two adopted sons, Zachary
and Justin, were there to support them as they got married.
"The state recognizes us as a real family now," Robinson,
who works at a bank, said, adding "even though we've always
known we were a family.
"The next step is to get full equal rights with the federal
government," Robinson said.
New York is the sixth and largest U.S. state to allow gay
marriage. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire,
Vermont and the District of Columbia also do so.
Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey have approved
gay civil unions, and gay marriage is specifically banned in 39
Civil liberties activists say New York's legalization of
same-sex marriage sends a message to the U.S. Congress that it
must repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act defining
marriage as between a man and a woman.
"New York is sending a powerful message to the rest of the
nation today as we once again lead the way for equal rights,"
said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat.
Groups of clergy and other opponents of the change staged a
protest in front of Governor Cuomo's Midtown Manhattan office,
warning that lawmakers who supported same-sex marriage would
face punishment in upcoming elections.
The Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law in 1996 by
Democratic President Bill Clinton. U.S. President Barack Obama
has said he would support a bill meant to repeal the law.
The law prohibits same-sex couples from receiving
marriage-based federal benefits such as Social Security
survivor benefits, health benefits and the right to file taxes
Officials estimate legalizing gay marriage would add some
$400 million to New York's strained economy over the next three
(Reporting by Basil Katz in New York and Neale Gulley in
Niagara Falls; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Walsh)