Around the Nation
9:50 am
Sun July 24, 2011

Same-Sex Couples Exchange Vows in New York

New York is now the sixth state, along with the District of Columbia, allowing same-sex marriages.

Across the Empire State, couples exchanged vows shortly after midnight. At Niagara Falls, gay marriage activists Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd were wed in front of the rainbow-lit falls just a second or two after the clock struck 12.

Getting married at midnight requires some creative scheduling. Cutting the cake came hours before they tied the knot. So did the dancing, speeches and entertainment. Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster performed the marriage ceremony as several hundred people looked on.

Most New York couples must wait 24 hours after receiving a license to have a ceremony, but Lambert and Rudd received a waiver. They're both grandmothers in their 50s and they've been advocating for gay marriage in Buffalo, where they live, for at least seven years. Lambert says she wanted to be the first same-sex couple to be legally married in New York.

"I don't want to wait a minute longer than I have to," she said.

Amanda Morissette of Niagara Falls says she attended the wedding because she wanted to be a part of history.

"You're going to look back and look at the pictures and say, 'Hey, I was there for the first gay wedding in New York,'" Morissette said.

New York's law passed by only four votes in the state Senate last month, and there are many who still disagree with same-sex marriage. Among them is the Rev. Peter Del Rio. He's affiliated with the United New Testament Church and owns a business called Weddings By The Falls. He said he was pleased that New York's law allows him to abstain from performing same-sex marriages.

"I like the fact that someone was actually recognizing who I was and gave me the freedom to say no," Del Rio said.

Del Rio says he politely declines the two to three inquiries he receives each day from same-sex couples. He's not worried about the lost business. But there are others around town who see opportunity.

In recent decades, Niagara Falls has lost some of its luster for couples looking for a romantic place to get hitched.

"This is an opportunity for us to redefine Niagara Falls as a very exciting place to get married," Mayor Dyster said.

He says one draw is how many population centers are within driving distance.

"With $4 [a gallon] gas, this could be a very exotic, and yet inexpensive, place for same-sex couples now to come get married from places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and other places in the Midwest," Dyster said.

As part of the town's push to host gay weddings, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. has organized a group wedding for same-sex couples on Monday. Four officiates will be on hand to marry couples and afterward there will be cake and champagne.

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