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Same-sex pairs ring wedding bells

| Sunday, June 26, 2011

NEW YORK -- Waves of gay couples rushed on Saturday to make wedding plans as euphoria over New York state's legalization of same-sex marriage promised to turn the annual gay pride parade here into an enormous roving engagement party.

In the wake of the law passed by the legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo late Friday, engagement rings were offered and accepted and champagne corks popped to kick off wedding plans that are likely to add an estimated $284 million to the state's economy, according to a report by the Independent Democratic Conference.

The report estimated that more than 21,000 gay and lesbian couples from New York would marry within the first three years and nearly 42,000 gay and lesbian couples from out of state would travel to New York for a "destination wedding."

"Peter, will you marry me?" asked Dan Gallagher, 46, who dropped down on one knee as he finished running through Central Park yesterday with his partner of 14 years, Peter Shearer, an emergency medicine physician. The couple, who are raising a 4-year-old son, are thrilled to marry in their home state.

The decision to wait for a wedding in New York also was made by Walter Bridgham, 47, a manager at Macy's, and Argus Galindo, 46, a magazine subscription manager, who cheered the law's passage with a crowd outside New York City's Stonewall Inn, where a police raid in 1969 sparked the modern gay rights movement.

"It was emotional. He turned to me, and we looked into each other's eyes and said, 'Yes.' We knew the question," Bridgham said. They have been a couple for 20 years, and their ceremony is set for July 28 in New York's City Hall.

"It makes you feel like we're equal, that we can celebrate with friends in New York and not have it be, in some people's eyes, not recognized," said Tim Ford, 45, an actor engaged to marry his partner of 18 years, Michael Beltran, 44, an administrator for a law firm, in October.

"The wedding planning stress is already started," he said.

Before the ink dried on the newly signed law, they changed their Facebook status from domestic partnership to engaged, sparking a flurry of congratulations, Beltran said.

"We waited for this day for a long time. It's very emotional," he said, choking back tears.

Both men were raised as Roman Catholics, and Beltran serves as a group song leader at weekly Mass, but they will not be married by the church, which opposed the gay marriage bill. The new law exempts churches and religious institutions from having to perform gay marriages.

"It doesn't bother me, but it bothers Michael a little more," said Ford, who plans instead to be married by a friend who was ordained as a minister.

Seemingly instantaneous engagements, planned for years but long awaiting the state's consent, were celebrated across the state, including in the state capital, Albany, where the proposed law was mired for days in a fight over the exemptions.

"I feel like a first-class citizen, a first-class New Yorker, for the first time in my life," said Jim Reda of Brooklyn outside the Senate chamber with his partner of eight years. "We will be married by the end of the year. I can't believe I'm actually saying that."

The most populous state to approve marriage equality legislation, New York is the sixth state to legalize gay nuptials, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia. Civil unions were approved in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey. Same-sex marriage is banned in 39 states.

The victory was expected to boost crowds at the NYC Pride March today, according to Britton Hogge, media director for Heritage of Pride, which organizes the event.

"We expect an extra 500,000 to 1 million as a result of passage," said Hogge, noting the crowd estimate for the event from police was typically about 1.5 million people.

In the past, the event was considered less a parade and more a march in an ongoing demand for equal rights and respect. This year's victory for same-sex marriage and the tsunami of marriage proposals were expected to transform the event into a movable engagement party.

"It's definitely going to change the mood. This year, for sure, it's just going to be a huge celebration," Hogge said.

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