Moments before she and her wife cut the cake, generously scribed with the words "Congratulations on Your Wedding", Rose Sol, 40, paused for a second of reflection.
She leant across to out gay Councilman of the 26th District, Jimmy Van Bramer, and whispered something in his ear. He nodded his head and turned to the microphone, "And before we continue, I’m reminded very poignantly to talk about some of the folks that didn’t get to see this day," he said.
"For the AIDS crisis or whatever other reason, they didn’t get to see what it means so much to us, let’s raise our glasses to them."
At which Rose raised her hand and bowed her head. "To love and equality and each other!" shouted Van Bramer. The sweaty gathering of 200 friends and family cheered him on, applauding and wooting.
The reception, in a Sunnyside wine bar in Queens was hosted by Van Bramer, a longterm advocate of marriage equality. Rose and her now-wife Autumn, 38, were guests of honour, along with the first same-sex couple married in the borough, Shane Serkiz, 33, and Greg Levine, 32.
Dressed casually in all black and thongs, the women looked elated, excited, and exhausted.
"This has been a hell three weeks," said Autumn, 38, an artist. "You have no idea how much we’ve been fighting. It’s so freakin’ stressful."
The couple met in a bookstore in Arizona 18 years ago, back when Rose was still in university and only wore gay rights T-Shirts. After a 15-year engagement they’d only had three weeks to plan everything for the big day after the passage of the same sex marriage bill in New York last month.
At least there was no dispute over the date — the wedding simply had to be Sunday 24 July 2011 — the first day of legally recognised same-sex marriage in New York State.
"After waiting so long, we’re not going to wait any longer," said Rose "Once that door is open, you gotta walk through it straight away, because you never know when it might close again."
But the rush also meant Bridezilla by stealth: fights and arguments. "We fought about the type of pasta I’d bought one night," Rose laughed. "I said it was angel hair and she insisted it was skinny linguini." The couple didn’t talk to each other for several hours after that, until finally Rose (whose maiden name is Caprio) conceded in a text message that Autumn was a better Italian than she … even though Autumn’s lineage is Scottish.
Boiling tensions over pasta purchasing aside, such a quick shift would change the dynamics of any relationship.
"All my friends have been having similar issues over the last three weeks," said Rose. "Suddenly, you’ve got to make all these decisions, it does change a lot of things."
Rose and Autumn were among 764 same sex couples in New York who tied the knot on Sunday. According to Mayor, Michael Bloomberg this was a record breaking number of ceremonies. The previous record was set on Valentine’s Day, 2003, when 621 heterosexual couples exchanged vows.
Lines snaked out of clerk’s offices around the state from late Saturday, and as night turned into day on Sunday in New York, photos of couples kissing, jumping for joy, embracing solemnly or shedding a tear, began to appear on Facebook, blogs and news sites.
The scene at the City Clerk’s office In Queens was a little more tranquil than over in Manhattan. Only 91 Queens couples applied for the 112 available spots there.
That suited Rose and Autumn — longtime Sunnyside residents — just fine. They weren’t up for the mayhem. Having filled out their licence paperwork they were ready for the ceremony at 11:15am.
It was to be a low key, low risk occasion, attended by a few close friends and relatives, as well as Van Bramer. In other words, the scene was set for the day the two women had dreamt of for so long.
But not everything went according to plan. "It nearly didn’t happen," said Rose.
Cold feet? Nope. "A staffer at the clerk’s office was convinced we were sisters," she said. "Just because we have the same surname."
Convulsing in giggles at the thought, Autumn shrieked, "Sisters?! Really!? Do we even look anything like each other?"
After several gasps of disbelief, they finally convinced the person behind the window they weren’t in fact related, but were in love.
Fourteen years ago, frustrated with the lack of legal recognition for same sex couples, after Autumn had proposed to Rose in Las Vegas, they decided to change their name by deed poll.
They both took on Autumn’s middle name, "Sol", which means sun in Spanish. The change afforded them some health insurance waivers but it was more a symbolic gesture, a compromise.
"We wanted to be recognised as a family," said Rose.
Until now, their business "Sol Sauce" has been registered under the names of two individual proprietors. They’ve had issues with insurance companies, banks, state assistance and pensions. They’ve had trouble applying for housing.
Sunday’s wedding means that finally they’ll be legally recognised. Now they will be able to get federal health plans together, access each other’s pensions if the need arises, and file joint tax returns.
For all the celebrations, the fight is far from over in the US. After all, New York is only the sixth state in the country to recognise marriage equality, and there is no federal law that does so.
In fact, the federal Defense of Marriage Act 1996, which doesn’t recognise same sex marriage and overrides any state law, is still up for debate. It was just last week that President Obama withdrew his support for it. Advocates pin their hopes on the proposed Respect for Marriage Act. Debate started on this Act before the Senate Judiciary Committee a week ago. The act would give social security benefits and health insurance to same sex married couples, it would also override any necessity for individual states to legalize same sex marriages.
"Definitely the fight isn’t over," says Van Bramer. "But despite the continued challenges for same sex couples, I hope that today is a turning point."
"I would call it a pivotal day in gay rights history" said Rose. "My great aunt from Long Island was lesbian, she lived her entire life with no recognition. This is also for her and all those people who didn’t get to witness today’s milestone."
As she scours the room full of revellers, Rose thinks back to when she first met Autumn in that bookshop, all those years ago.
"I was wearing one of my t-shirts," she says. It was an activist’s shirt with a roughly printed list of all the rights one would gain from being legally married.
"It seemed so impossible back then …" Rose trails off, gulping back a ball of emotion. She looks away and pretends to be distracted by the wedding cake she’s being offered by a friend. Autumn fondly feeds her a spoonful and wipes the sweat from her nose.
"Now look at us, we’re married."
Want more independent media? New Matilda stays online thanks to reader donations. To become a financial supporter, click here.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.