As Kitten Withuwhip dabbed on her foundation and groomed her long black hair on Sunday morning, she knew Pride 2011 would be like no other.
The New York queen and famous drag marriage celebrant had experienced the revelry, the celebration and the debauchery of the 42-year-old march many times. But there was always something that made her feel uneasy, something that stopped her fully celebrating her sexuality. It was knowing she could never marry the man of her dreams.
But this year felt different for Kitten. Bouncing around, giggling and whistling in a latex mini skirt, enormous high heeled black boots, a black plastic bikini and a feather boa, Kitten had obviously put in a special effort for Sunday’s parade.
"Baby, you wanna know something?!", she hollered down the 6th Avenue corner late on Sunday night. "This is the best day of my life, and there ain’t nothing that can take that away from me."
Kitten’s sentiments reverberated around New York — they could be heard from midtown Manhattan to the Lower East Side and out to Brooklyn. 6000 people are estimated to have marched and police say over two million spectators turned out to watch the two mile long line snake through the city. Rainbow flags replaced the ordinarily patriotic red, white and blue hanging from doorways, poles and cars. Instead of the wailing of ambulances and police cars, the lyrics to "Going to the Chapel" echoed off walls everywhere. New Yorkers, from all walks of life hugged, hooted and hailed, together. There was a feeling of sheer uninhibited celebration.
"As the lesbian on motorcycles thundered into view down Fifth Avenue I did something I had not done in 28 years. I burst into tears," wrote Jim Luce on his blog on Monday. "After 28 years in New York City, I finally have the right to marry the man I love. Thank you, Andrew Cuomo."
The Governor of New York state Andrew Cuomo was clearly the hero of the day. Placards thanking him or scrawled with the slogan "Promise Kept" peppered the crowd. Cuomo had signed the same-sex marriage measure into law two days earlier — after the Republican-controlled Senate had passed it 33 to 29 on Friday evening.
The law means same-sex couples will be able to marry in New York from 24 July. New York is the sixth but most populous state to pass the legislation. It follows Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia. In Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey couples can have approved civil unions, but not get married. It’s a sore point for some.
One group of New Jersey teenagers on Christopher Street, had traveled over the Hudson for Pride, "It’s weird to think about," said 19-year-old Keisha. "Our Governor has just said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, so we can never get married at home, but we can come here and do what we like."
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey reaffirmed his position on same-sex marriage just after the New York bill passed last week. That means New Jersey, just a 15-minute ferry ride away, will remain among the 39 states where same-sex couples can’t formalise their union.
"That’s OK," says New York City. Officials for Mayor Bloomberg have already hinted at a massive "NYC I DO" campaign to lure in the 66,000 gay couples who are expected to tie the knot in the next three years. A report from the Independent Democratic Conference says the legislation will likely inject an extra $284 million to the state’s economy.
"We anticipate that the campaign, set to launch soon, will create hundreds of millions of dollars in additional economic impact to the city’s $31 billion tourism industry," NYC & Company Chief Executive George Fertitta told Reuters on Monday.
The influence of money on the debate has become painfully obvious over the last week. It’s illustrated that in American politics, even the supposedly sacred institution of marriage doesn’t escape the impervious power of lobbyists and funders.
Democrat Andrew Cuomo was determined to succeed and he knew the only way to get the law passed was money. Critics chortled that it would ever happen because he’d never triumph over the Roman Catholic ranks. But Cuomo proved that Wall Street still has it and money seems to talk louder than religion. People such as hedge fund managers Daniel Loeb and Cliff Asness, along with Paul Singer, the billionaire businessman whose son is gay, flexed their financial muscle insulating the issue-sensitive Republicans against fiscal losses.
Robert Moore knows all too well about the wheeling and dealing of American politics. He’s been a gay rights activist since he left home at the age of 17. He grew up in a Mormon household in Oregon, and when he came out to his parents at 19 he was isolated from his family and his community. He wasn’t allowed to attend his sister’s wedding. Since then he’s dedicated his life to lobbying politicians. He’s been arrested five times and spent time in jail for his activism.
Moore described Sunday’s parade as a moment of vindication though, "We have a list of over 1000 benefits to same-sex marriage, including insurance premiums and access to Medical assistance," he said. "But the greatest benefit to me personally is that I can now live in one of the greatest cities of the world knowing that one day I could get married here."
"New York is where things begin," said Kitten Withuwhip, "That means, it’s happened here and one day, it might happen all around the world"
She added that it would mean she’d be out of a job — no one would need a drag wedding in Times Square anymore — but that didn’t matter in the scheme of things.
"HAPPY PRIDE Y’all!," she shouted and skipped off down the street.
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