New York City’s Empire State Building has played a memorable character in many romantic love stories—both fictional and real—yet, there is none quite as historical as the one that took place on Feb. 14, 2012.

Last week, while the busy morning commuters bustled along the streets below, Stephanie Figarelle and Lela McArthur became the first same-sex couple to marry at the art deco icon.


They were among four couples who won the annual multi-wedding Facebook-driven contest, produced by Colin Cowie Weddings in partnership with the Empire State Building. This year was especially momentous as it was the first in which same-sex marriage was legally recognized in New York, prompting a surge of gay couples to enter and winning two of the four slots available for the all-expenses paid wedding designed by the celebrity planner.

At 8 a.m. sharp, Lela and Steph were the first of the four to exchange vows, and in doing so, made history.


With the couple having met in an anatomy class at the University of Alaska, officiant Celia Milton joked of their first encounter. “What a classic setting for a love story. The ambiance of fluorescent lighting! The clinking of skeletons, those flattering safety glasses and starchy lab coats! The smell of disinfectant in the air!” Nevertheless, there was more than test tube chemistry happening in the room. After a whirlwind romance, Steph proposed atop a snowy hillside, the very one on which they filmed their submission video.

Inspired by the windy wilds of their home state, Cowie constructed a wintry wonderland ceremony scene. Lela, wearing an Alita Graham strapless ruched gown from Kleinfeld Bridal, walked down a serpentine-shaped aisle flanked with silver-sprayed birch trees iced with Swarovski crystals. Steph donned a dashing black tux and silver tie provided by Kleinfeld.


“In this moment, I am most grateful for having found the woman I have dreamed of,” said Steph in her heartfelt vows. “You have filled voids that will never filled by another soul on this earth.”

“By marrying you, I vow to always stand by your side, never in front of or behind you. I vow to be your pillar of strength when you feel weak. I promise to always speak of you before myself and value the gift that is our marriage above all else … Our New York City adventure is only the beginning, and sets the tone for the rest of our lives together. I love you with all of my heart.”

Lela followed with “Your beauty shines inside and out. I feel like I’m in another world when I’m with you. I can’t thank you enough for opening up your love to me. You’re my best friend, my strength, my one true love … I welcome the challenges that will only serve to bring us closer together.”

“On this special Valentine’s Day, I make a promise to you, to myself, to our family and friends, to stay by your side as a faithful wife, in joy and sorrow, in good times and bad. I promise to love you without reservation, comfort you in times of stress. To laugh with you, to cry with you and grow with you in mind and always be open and honest with you. To cherish you for as long as we both shall live. I will always love you forever with every beat of my heart, just the way you are.”


Following the ceremony, the guests were ushered into a nearby room for Champagne and passed breakfast bites of scrambled eggs with sundried tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese in a parmesan basket, smoked salmon in dilled crepes, and white hot chocolate with mini chocolate donuts. They then enjoyed a multi-course seated breakfast of egg panisse with maple creme fraiche and chives served with toast twigs followed by heart-shaped Belgian waffles topped with cinnamon whipped cream and fresh strawberries and blueberries. “We wanted to do a combination of elegant and fun for them, with the Hussarde followed by the heart waffles,” said Mary Giuliani, the New York-based caterer. Guests, some journeying as far as from Alaska, were seated at a long mirrored table, sparkling with Swarovski crystals.

When asked what their most memorable moment of the day, “Our vows,” Lela quickly responded. “Very meaningful. I loved every word [she] said.”

“I thought you would like it,” smiled Steph.

Photo: Christian Oth Studio