Volume 17, Number 39 | February 17-23, 2005

Gays Wed At City Marriage Bureau on Valentine’s Day
MCC’s Rev. Pat Bumgardner marries four couples in protest of Bloomberg legal appeal

By ANDY HUMM

Two weeks after Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ordered New York City Clerk Victor Robles to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses, Rev. Pat Bumgardner, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), marked Freedom to Marry Day on February 14 by taking over the wedding chapel at the clerk’s office and marrying two gay couples from her congregation.

She later wed one gay and one lesbian couple in the hallway outside the city clerk’s office at One Centre Street.

Robles said he was unable to issue licenses for the marriages because “the Domestic Relations Law is a state law,” the City’s Law Department at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg had appealed Ling-Cohan’s ruling and he had no independent power to comply with the order.

The two couples who wed in the chapel, Mel Bryant and Bradley Curry, and Gerard Mawn and Angel Figueroa Love, filled out license applications to marry but were denied the paperwork that would allow them to register their union and receive a license.

Mike McSweeney, the first deputy city clerk, told the couples, “Unfortunately, as of today, we are unable to accept your applications,” citing the mayor’s appeal.

“We’re asking for a basic human right,” said Bryant, with Curry adding, “It makes you feel like second–class citizens.”

The couple had previously registered as domestic partners with the city.

Even as the mayor’s Law Department is drafting an appeal, Bloomberg’s press secretary contends that he “essentially agrees with” the judge’s ruling. At a Human Rights Campaign dinner at the Waldorf Astoria on February 5, Bloomberg said, “I hope the Court of Appeals will embrace the goals laid out in yesterday’s decision.”

Bumgardner accused the mayor of “talking out of both sides of his mouth” and urged the clerk to “take a proactive stand” for same-sex marriage. Last year, she was one of several ministers and rabbis who married gay and lesbian couples on the steps of City Hall in defiance of a law that bars licensed agents from solemnizing unlicensed marriages, a statute that landed Mayor Jason West of New Paltz in legal hot water that has yet to be resolved. Manhattan’s district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, however, indicated that he will not make prosecutions under the law that the Ulster County prosecutor used against West.

After the applications from the couples were refused, Bumgardner led them into one of the wedding chapels near the clerk’s office, where she removed a black cape to reveal her liturgical vestments and began the wedding rite.

“You can’t do this,” an unidentified official shouted, “we’re going to call DCAS,” the Department of Citywide Administrative Services that manages municipal property. The official then closed the door to the chapel and the ceremony proceeded, unmolested by Robles, who by that time had appeared outside the door to monitor events.

When the wedding party emerged back into the hallway, more couples were waiting to be married. Ivan Vitiello and Diego Rodriguez from Union City, New Jersey, who have been together for four year and heard about the protest at a rally celebrating Ling-Cohan’s ruling a week earlier at the LGBT Community Center.

Liz Bellona and Kim Figuly of Dongan Hills, Staten Island, a couple for five years, heard about the Valentine’s Day protest in an e-mail message from Marriage Equality New York, and thought they might have a chance to secure a license.

“The mayor let us down,” Bellona said.

After Bumgardner married the lesbian couple, Bellona had tears rolling down her cheeks.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “We’ve waited for this day for so long.”

“We’re overjoyed,” Vitiello said. “I was going to propose tonight, but we got a little ahead of ourselves.”

The gay couple plans a honeymoon in Greece in a few months.

“We’re still the city of inequality,” said activist Brendan Fay, noting that these protesters follow a long line of “activists who came to City Hall seeking equal respect” back to a marriage bureau take-over in 1971. Fay married his husband Tom Moulton in Toronto in 2003.

Similar actions were staged in many other American cities on Valentine’s Day, mostly at the urging of Rev. Troy Perry, the founder of MCC. In Michigan, where voters passed a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage in November, five gay couples applied for licenses in Pontiac. Olympia, Washington, saw more than 700 at a religious-themed rally for same-sex marriage and the state gay rights bill. And in suburban Contra Costa County, California, lesbian and gay couples seeking marriage licenses were “politely” turned down by County Clerk Steve Weir, who is gay and registered his own partnership of 15 years with the state.

“If marriage were possible, I’d be the first one in line,” Weir told the San Francisco Chronicle.


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