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A buzzing NY readies for hundreds of gay weddings

By CAROLYN THOMPSON, Associated Press

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- Still in the glow of midnight marriages across New York, hundreds of gay couples were expected to marry on Sunday on the first full day that same-sex weddings were legal in the Empire State.

New York City alone was ready to host several hundred same-sex weddings, and clerks, judges and other officials in several cities around the state were opening their doors on a Sunday to cater to gay couples.

Judges were being posted in New York City clerks' offices on Sunday to officiate and to consider waiver requests to the state's mandatory 24-hour wait between issuing a license and a having ceremony. Couples without waivers can't wed until Monday or Tuesday, depending on whether their local clerks issue licenses Sunday.

Initially, New York City officials had projected that about 2,500 couples might show up at the city clerk's offices hoping to get married on Sunday, but by the time a 48-hour lottery had drawn to a close on Thursday, 823 couples had signed up - 59 more than the city had planned to accommodate. The city will perform ceremonies for all 823.

The first couples got married at the stroke of midnight Saturday in every corner of the state, from Niagara Falls to the capital in Albany to Long Island.

New York became the sixth, and largest, state to allow gay marriages last month, a highly anticipated vote that was viewed as a pivotal moment in the national gay rights movement and was expected to galvanize supporters and opponents alike.

Gay-rights activists Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd were legally married the very first moment they could be during a midnight ceremony at Niagara Falls.

With a rainbow-lit Niagara Falls as a backdrop, Lambert, 54, and Rudd, 53, were among the first gay couples to tie the knot with the blessing of the state. Lambert and Rudd, grandmothers with 12 grandchildren between them, have been together for more than a decade and had long been fighting for the right to marry.

The couple, both from Buffalo, smiled broadly as they exchanged traditional marriage vows, promising to love and cherish each other in sickness and in health. A crowd of several hundred people cheered as they were pronounced married and shared their first kiss.

"What an incredible night this was," said Lambert, who wore an electric blue satin gown with a sequined train for the midnight ceremony and carried a bouquet of blue hydrangeas. "This was an amazing night. Everything was absolutely perfect."

Rudd, who wore a white tuxedo with tails and white tennis shoes, said she felt "great relief" at being married because now she's "just like everyone else" and has the same rights.

"It feels great: I'm married," she said with an excited laugh.

Mayor Paul Dyster performed the ceremony, which was attended by some of the state lawmakers whose vote last month made it possible.

Lambert said in the days leading up to the event that she had told Rudd "way back that when this went through we won't wait a moment longer than we have to."

In Albany, Mayor Jerry Jennings performed marriages at 12:01 a.m. Sunday in the Common Council's chambers. A state Supreme Court judge waived the state-mandated 24-hour waiting period, Jennings said.

About 300 people packed the chambers for multiple ceremonies. Ariel Heintze and Kerry Doutrich, of Boulder, Colo., turned a long-planned visit to a friend into a reason to get a marriage license. Engaged three years, they'll marry later at the home of their friend, Jan Moyer, of Brunswick.

"It's absolutely historic," Doutrich said.

New York's vote to allow gay marriage provided fresh energy to the national drive for same-sex weddings. New York joined Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, along with Washington, D.C.

Advocates and opponents, many of whom reject same-sex marriage on religious grounds, said the New York vote, propelled by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would invigorate both sides.

Protests were planned around the state for Sunday, including at the state Capitol.

In Niagara Falls, Lambert and Rudd chose Luna Island at the foot of the Falls for the site of their ceremony, following in the tradition of countless other couples who've been marrying there for more than a century. The waterfalls were lit, for the first time, in the hues of the rainbow, the symbol of gay equality and pride.

The couple carefully planned a ceremony that would have them saying "I do" at one second past midnight, following a candlelit procession.

The Falls also will be the backdrop for a group wedding on Monday, with more than 40 couples planning to simultaneously marry.

On Long Island, Frank Fuertes and Patrick Simeone were married - again - in North Hempstead, just east of New York City. They married in Quebec three years ago and had considered themselves married since they met and moved in together in 1988. They had a small ceremony with a handful of friends in front of Town Clerk Leslie Gross and planned to be back at "business as usual" Monday morning.

"To me, it was 'About time,'" said Fuertes, a 55-year-old operations director for a retail company.

Simeone, a stylist on Long Island's north shore, said he's only sorry it took New York so long to recognize same-sex marriage.

"It's such a leader in many different ways," he said.

After the ceremony, Simeone said that despite being together 23 years, he felt different.

"We're happily married," he said shortly after 1 a.m. "I feel more loving. Kinder, more tender, more loved."

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