New York became the sixth and largest state to legalize gay marriage June 24. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation before midnight that Friday night, setting a 30-day clock before the law takes effect on a Sunday, when government offices normally are closed.
"This is a historic moment for New York, a moment many couples have waited years and even decades to see," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday, "and we are not going to make them wait one day longer than they have to."
Clerks' offices in all five boroughs will be open for a full day. Volunteer judges will be available to perform ceremonies and review requests to waive the state's mandatory 24-hour waiting period between when a couple gets a marriage license and when they can get married. During the next week, the offices will also stay open until 6:30 p.m., two hours later than usual.
It was not clear Wednesday how many of the hundreds of smaller cities and towns around the state would follow New York City's lead and open clerks' offices that Sunday.
The upstate city of Binghamton plans to open its clerk's office Sunday to accommodate couples who want to wed. Syracuse City Clerk John Copanas told the Syracuse Post-Standard that his office decided to open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 24, because it received so many calls from couples inquiring when they could get the $40 licenses. He said the city also wants to avoid being inundated with people the following Monday.
Officials in other cities said they would consider opening that Sunday, but wanted to get information from the state first.
"We're kind of reserving judgment until we hear from New York state," said Ithaca City Clerk Julie Conley Holcomb.
The hundreds of local clerks who administer marriage licenses are awaiting new forms and guidance from state health officials on how to proceed with the new law. Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said forms and guidance will start coming in the next few days.
"The administration will be reaching out to municipalities and jurisdictions across the state to assist with handling these procedures in the days and weeks ahead," Vlasto said.
Given the 24-hour waiting period and the possibility that not all clerks' offices will be open July 24, David Kilmnick of the Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services Network said his group is hosting a free mass wedding for same-sex couples at Bethpage State Park on Tuesday, July 26. As of Wednesday, 57 couples had registered, including Abi and Mari Cielo of Hicksville.
"It's just one more way to try to legalize, or legitimize, our relationship for the world, to recognize it. We're here, were staying, we're real," Abi Cielo said.
She called their marriage a "formality" given their commitment ceremony 11 years ago and their marriage in Massachusetts shortly after same-sex unions were legalized there in 2004. But the decision to marry on July 26 was easy: It's their anniversary.
In Binghamton, City Council Member Sean Massey said he did not necessarily expect waivers to be issued, meaning couples who came in Sunday could get married Monday.
Massey said the decision to open the city's office for four hours midday that Sunday was in part pragmatic, since it would avoid city workers having to juggle other duties with a possible crush of couples on Monday. He noted that Binghamton is just over the border from Pennsylvania, which does not recognize gay marriage.
But he said there was a symbolic reason too.
"We figured it's important and people want to be a part of this, on this first day," Massey said.
Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed from Albany, N.Y.
Online: Office of the City Clerk