Equally Wed Founders Maria and Kirsten’s Legal New York Summer Wedding
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of. New York. New York. I’ve felt a dizzying connection to New York since I was old enough to edit my school friends’ notes and pass them back for them to correct their mistakes (true nerd story). When I was younger, my grandmother and I shopped the streets of Chinatown and Broadway, she in her stockings and open-toed white sandals, me in my “I heart NY” shirt in a banana clip, black leggings and open-toed Jelly shoes. We were kindred spirits. She and my grandfather raised my father and uncle in Long Island. Though my Yankee dad carpet-bagged it down to the dirty South and fell in love with my mother, he never lost his accent, changing –ar and –er on words to –ah, like “dollah.” My wife feels a kinship to New York, as well. Her parents were born and raised there, and she still has family living in the city. We travel to the city often, grazing our way from SoHo to Hell’s Kitchen to Little Italy. My wife even proposed to me in Central Park in 2008. Of course, on 9/11, we all became New Yorkers, too. Solidarity helped us to rise above tragedy. And in that mindset of unity, I’d like to think that the nation came together to celebrate the passage of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Marriage Equality Bill on June 24, 2011, as well. On that evening and for days that followed, Pride flags were certainly waving in many households—from sea to shining sea.
It was on this evening that the idea came to me that I would surprise Maria, our publisher and my devoted wife, with a trip to New York to get legally hitched. We always knew we’d do it, but hadn’t made the time to do so just yet. After all, we spent a considerable amount of time to plan our lavish wedding in Georgia in 2009. From the exquisite floral arrangements to my poufy princess wedding gown to our judiciously edited guest list of 75 friends and family for our evening garden wedding on the last weekend of spring, we worked hard to make the day of our dreams come to life. Just how would we top it—and did we want to?
As residents of Georgia, we are without any federal or state rights or protections as a lesbian couple. Any protections our relationship has are ones we sought through expensive legal paperwork such as durable power of attorney, last will and testament, and advance health care directive (also known as a living will). Getting legally married in another state where we do not live, such as New York, does nothing for us legally. But yet, it means so much to be able to do so. We could have chosen any of the six states full marriage equality is available, but we felt so closely connected to New York that we didn’t even need to discuss it. Once marriage equality became available on July 24 (the date licenses were being issued to same-sex couples), we began to plan our trip.
Not wanting to outshine our 2009 wedding, we planned to get legally married with a small celebration. At first, we thought we’d tie the knot in a ceremony in Central Park where we got engaged. But I was compelled toward saying “I do” in an official government setting. It just seemed so official.
Our trip was a whirlwind from start to finish. We’d just welcomed twin boys into the world five months prior, so we didn’t want to be away from them for very long. Excellent grandparents provided the trusted care they needed while we applied ourselves to becoming Mrs. and Mrs. in the great state of New York.
Choosing the venue as the Manhattan Marriage Bureau eliminated many issues I faced when planning our 2009 wedding, such as rentals of linens, chairs, tables, centerpieces and whatnot. Of course, had we not held that very meaningful ceremony in front of our friends and family, we likely would have gone all out for our legal wedding. But we truly wanted our second marriage to be more conservative and subdued, while still recognizing the immense importance of us being documented in history as a legally recognized couple.
Private dining room at Casa Nonna
The night before our legal wedding—the rehearsal dinner evening, if you will, we took a cab up to the Theater District near Times Square to investigate a new Italian restaurant we’d heard so many great things about called Casa Nonna. The spacious restaurant is decorated in a rustic wooden design, calling to mind an Italian kitchen in the outskirts of town. Our server, who was obscenely happy for us—two women—to be getting married the next day, doted on us. It felt so good to be able to share our news with someone we didn’t know, and be able to know that, more than likely, we weren’t going to experience any overt discrimination, because our marriage is legally recognized in that state. After a lengthy meal of heaping bowls of hearty pasta, Italian wines and dessert to go, I meandered around the restaurant and discovered a handsomely appointed private dining room down a hall. It seats 12, and it would be perfect for a small wedding party’s intimate rehearsal dinner. With the family-sharing portion sizes, this is definitely a fun gay-friendly venue to consider for a New York wedding celebration, pre- or post.
Maria and I decided to only invite one person to our New York wedding, her dear friend Cristina, who is lucky enough to already reside in NY. We would have invited many more, but we didn’t want to burden anyone with the inclination of spending more money on us than they already had for our first wedding. We also decided that because we were only having one witness/guest, we weren’t going to throw any type of reception, but rather just treat ourselves to excellent accommodations, food and wine.
Statue of Liberty room, Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park
We invested in a lavish room at the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park, to commemorate our 2011 wedding. Our room at the Ritz was pure heaven. The hotel brand is elite in its offerings to guests, with high-end amenities, a softer-than-soft bed, a staff that remembers your name and preferences, a club-level lounge with exquisite cuisine and a fantastic attentiveness unparalleled in the world. Because we took advantage of the hotel’s Marriage Equality package, we were upgraded to a Statue of Liberty room, which offers a view of the Lady of Liberty complete with a telescope that allows you to look at her Highness extremely up close and personal. The hotel’s coordinator knew we were coming in to get hitched, but we didn’t expect to be treated any differently beyond the upgrade. However, we were so touched on our legal-wedding day to return to our room to find the most exquisite wedding cake for two crowned with intricate, ornate sugar flowers; a chilled bottle of Champagne; a note of congrats from the Ritz and three silver bowls containing juicy strawberries, thick house-made whipped cream and brown sugar. It’s this kind of meaningful demonstration of support that makes me sing the praises of the Ritz-Carlton.
TYING THE KNOT
In New York, you have to wait 24 hours after applying for your marriage license before getting married. Maybe they really want you to think it through. So we added that into our itinerary when planning our trip, as well as making sure we left ample time for long lines. Luckily, we encountered none. We zipped in and out, only having to show our Georgia drivers’ licenses and fill out a little paperwork. And pay a fee. The only small hiccup was when the registrar asked why we had the same last name already. I hadn’t counted on that. I quickly explained that we’d already married—non-legally—in Georgia, and thus I’d legally taken Maria’s last name as my own in our home state. The explanation was accepted, but it made me wonder if I would have needed the judge’s decree from when I took her name had we had another type of city employee that day who wanted to make it hard for us. That’s definitely a hardship of being gay—you can never really let your guard down, you always have to be prepared that others are going to stand in your way, so we must constantly work extra hard to take all the precautions possible to remove them from our paths. It’s just about thinking ahead, really.
The next day, Maria and I woke up in a giddy good mood. It was our second wedding day! Though there was much less planning involved, there was still just as much heart invested in having our love and commitment recognized in this manner, and we were excited. Cristina, best friend and star witness extraordinaire, joined us at the Ritz and we zipped over to Worth Street to the Manhattan Marriage Bureau. Our wedding photographer, Angie McCaffrey of Entwined Studio, met us outside and immediately began shooting. We chose Angie after she took such marvelous shots of us in 2010. Already knowing how awesome she was to work with gave us the confidence of knowing she supported our relationship and marriage equality. Plus, she sure knows how to work a flattering angle for a new mother of twins!
After working our way through a very short line, paying our obligatory fee to the clerk and waiting with other couples—gay and straight—for a little more than 15 minutes, our names were called and we were ushered into the East Chapel. Inside, a justice of the peace greeted us and invited us to stand in front of a wooden podium. The man was hilarious, but I don’t think it was intentional. He was so theatrical that it made us giggle, especially with his thunderous beginning. In a thick New York accent, he boomed, “We are gathered here today to witness the joining of two lives.” He went on to talk about the meaning of marriage and invited us to exchange our wedding rings. When he declared us as married by the power vested in him by the “great state of New York,” I wept with happiness. I was moved beyond measure by the sheer history that we were making as two women—two of little more than 100,000 according to the most recent Census—who’ve been recorded in a legally binding agreement as married.
Cynics might be thinking I was more excited by the history in the making and less about marrying the woman of my dreams. But Maria and I already had that float-in-the-clouds moment on our wedding day in 2009. We felt married when we stood in front of our community of family and close friends and promised to love and cherish each other for the rest of our days.
Still, despite having had the 2009 Georgia wedding, the New York wedding of 2011 felt spectacular in a different way. I now feel valid and accounted for. That somewhere, in some way, we matter.
I can’t wait until everyone in the United States can feel like this, when every gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender person can get legally wed in his or her home state. The fight for marriage equality is far from over. Get involved nationally and locally.
Photos/Kirsten+Maria: Entwined Studio; Casa Nonna: Melissa Hom; Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park courtesy of Ritz-Carlton