Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com Aseem Chhabra
Rediff.com's Aseem Chhabra witnessed the reflection of the struggle for equal marriage rights for gay and lesbians in New York city on Sunday where over hundred same-sex couples took their vows. Among the couples was an Indian American couple too.
Navin Dargani and Navin Manglani have been together as a couple for six years and last month the two held a commitment ceremony in California with family and friends.
But on Sunday, July 24, the two young men, both residents of New York City, lined up before 9 am at the marriage bureau on 100 Worth Street in Manhattan to get their relationship officially approved by the New York State.
They were able to get a license, a judicial waiver for the 24 hour waiting period and get married the same day.
"It's nice to know that fellow New Yorkers respect our relationship and can honour our love," Dargani said as he stood in the line with a couple of hundred people ahead and behind him.
'It is the social validation of our relationship'
The two wore similar clothes -- shorts (it has been miserably hot in city for the past few days), shirts and bow ties.
"I feel like it is the social validation of our relationship," Manglani said about the reason they chose to get married.
"That's meant a lot to us for many years, but to have that kind of a nod from the society elevates it to a different level and goes to show it is no different than any other relationship."
Thirty days after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the law legalising same sex marriage, hundreds of couples gathered at different marriage bureaus in parts of the state.
The largest gathering -- all very orderly, with a festive mood, was in New York City, where 659 couples picked up licenses and 484 wed at the marriage bureaus in all of the city's five boroughs. The largest numbers of marriages were conducted in Manhattan -- 293 in total.
'Now I can legally be his mom'
New York is now one of the seven states in the US that has legalized same sex marriage. The other states are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, DC.
As a reflection of the larger nationwide struggle for equal marriage rights for gay and lesbians -- there were also 107 couples who got married in the city, but they were from states where same-sex marriage is still not legal.
Sarah and Amy Sobin drove up all the way from Virginia to get married in New York City. They started their trip at 3 am, bringing with them their year and a half old son Henry. Sarah is Henry's biological mother.
"Now I can legally be his mom," Amy said, although she was aware that the license they were to receive would not be valid in Virginia.
"They won't allow third party adoptions in Virginia."
'This day is special for us'
Chantell Dorsey and her partner for less than a year -- Elise Lindsey, drove up from Georgia to get married in New York City.
They hoped to get their license in Manhattan and later have the marriage ceremony performed in Brooklyn.
"We have been wanting to get married and so this day is special for us," Chantell said, while she also acknowledged that the certificate they would receive in New York would have no legal standing in Georgia.
'The important thing is the legal protection'
And Katie Williams and Jennifer Anderson, residents of North Carolina, made a special vacation to New York City just to be married on July 24.
The two first met in 1996 and then had a commitment ceremony in Michigan in 2002.
"The important thing is the legal protection," Jennifer said. "We want to work towards that, like right now if Katie was in the hospital, I wouldn't have any say."
"Marriage is just a word and it's that relationship that is the important part," Katie said. "If they want us to use another word, if it is upsetting people, we can come up with any other word. But the commitment in the relationship is more important."
'Marriage is important. It's a step in the eyes of society'
And Jennifer added: "Look married people fight, they cheat, get divorced, even sometimes beat each other. But there is societal implication that marriage is important. It's a step in the eyes of society."
On Sunday, the city and state offices are usually closed, but on this day the marriage bureaus were open as a special exception.
It was reported that over 100 state judges and of course many other New York government employees volunteered to work on this day.
And surprisingly many straight couples also decided to get married on this day.
'I think India still has some way to go to be there'
Photographs: Parvez Sharma
In the line around 11.30 am was an Indian couple -- Preeti Gureja and Kunal Vaid. The two recently had a Hindu wedding ceremony in India, but then decided to get married again in New York City.
"We thought it is a good enough celebratory occasion," Preeti said, adding that she and her husband supported New York State's same sex marriage law.
"I think India still has some way to go to be there," Preeti said reflecting on the Delhi high court's ruling to strike down Article 377.
"It was a dramatic step, but we have a way to go culturally. If the legal system starts to work in the right direction, hopefully society and culture will move too.
And Kunal added, "Given that Indians ape a lot of western culture, I think this is a good trend for India to replicate."
'It is a recognition that is long overdue'
Peter Wapner and Raymond Courmont have been partners for 37 years, but the residents of New York City and Miami decided to make it official on Sunday. They stood in the line wearing colorful garlands and supporting identical white bears.
"It is a recognition that is long overdue and a commentary on a society that can progress," Peter said about their impending ceremony.
"Marriage makes a legal thing that we can stand for each other and speak for each other, like any other married couples, which is now denied to us." Raymond added.
Surprisingly, there was very little protest in downtown Manhattan.
'Those people are all in the dark'
A Christian fundamentalist carrying a placard that read: "Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, the life," was silenced by a larger group of gay and lesbian activists who kept yelling "Love, Love!"
A lone Hasidic Jewish protester was present in the early part of the day carrying a sign that read: "Bad Idea!"
"Frankly we hope that people with good conscience would not be misled with this foolishness," the protester who identified himself as Dovid Z Schwartz said.
He added: "There's a universal stand for all human beings and this (same sex marriage) is in direct violation of it."
"Those people are all in the dark," he said, pointing to the hundreds who stood in the line across the street from him.
"Every human being is given free choice that includes the power to do the wrong thing. Unfortunately they have to face the consequences for that. But that's up to God to decide."
Despite the heat, the day was full of joy
Despite the heat, the day was full of joy. People came dressed in colorful and creative attire, some carrying flowers.
Many brought friends and family members and little children with them.
Since the lines were long -- it took nearly four and half hour for a couple standing in the line to eventually get a license and get married, many volunteers from different human rights and other not-for-profit groups handed over water bottles to those waiting outside Manhattan's marriage bureau.
Inside the air conditioning was in full force. Couples were first given the license and then escorted into different judges' chambers.
'I now pronounce you spouse and spouse'
One wedding ceremony of a gay couple this reporter attended ended with the judge proclaiming: "By the power vested in me by the State of New York, I now pronounce you spouse and spouse or husband and husband!"
It was quite a moment!
But the biggest excitement was at the back of the building where the ceremonies were held.
Across the exit door nearly 200 New Yorkers -- men, women and even children stood most of the day cheering as each married couple stepped out.
There was even a small jazz band playing upbeat tunes, adding a nice flavour to the mood of the day.