Clerk’s Offices Opening on Sunday to Accommodate Same-Sex Couples in N.Y.

July 7, 2011 - 5:40 AM

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Clerks' offices in New York City and at least two upstate cities are taking the unusual step of opening on a Sunday for gay couples eager to tie the knot as soon as the state's new gay marriage law takes effect July 24, but many other cities and towns are waiting for state government guidance first.

New York became the sixth and largest state to legalize gay marriage June 24. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation before midnight, setting a 30-day clock that makes the law become official on a day when government offices normally are closed.

New York City officials announced Wednesday they would open their clerks' offices in all five boroughs for a full day July 24, saying gay couples should not be made to wait one day longer to wed.

"This is a historic moment for New York, a moment many couples have waited years and even decades to see," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "and we are not going to make them wait one day longer than they have to."

Volunteer judges will be available to perform ceremonies and review requests to waive the state's mandatory 24-hour waiting period between when a couple gets a marriage license and when they can get married. During the next week, the offices will also stay open until 6:30 p.m., two hours later than usual.

It was not clear Wednesday exactly how many of the state's smaller cities and towns would follow New York City's lead and open clerks' offices that Sunday, although officials in the upstate cities of Binghamton and Syracuse have indicated they will do so.

Syracuse City Clerk John Copanas told the Syracuse Post-Standard that his office decided to open July 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. because it received so many calls from couples inquiring when they could get the $40 licenses. He said the city also wants to avoid being inundated with people the following Monday.

Officials in other cities said they would consider opening that Sunday, but wanted to get information from the state first.

"We're kind of reserving judgment until we hear from New York state," said Ithaca City Clerk Julie Conley Holcomb.

The hundreds of local clerks around the state who administer marriage licenses are awaiting new forms and guidance from state health officials on how to proceed with the new law. Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said forms and guidance will start coming in the next few days.

"The administration will be reaching out to municipalities and jurisdictions across the state to assist with handling these procedures in the days and weeks ahead," Vlasto said.

Given the 24-hour waiting period and the possibility that not all clerks' offices will be open July 24, David Kilmnick of the Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services Network said his group is hosting a free mass wedding for same-sex couples at Bethpage State Park on Tuesday, July 26. As of Wednesday, 57 couples had registered, including Abi and Mari Cielo of Hicksville.

"It's just one more way to try to legalize, or legitimize, our relationship for the world, to recognize it. We're here, were staying, we're real," Abi Cielo said.

She called their marriage a "formality" given their commitment ceremony 11 years ago and their marriage in Massachusetts shortly after same-sex unions were legalized there in 2004. But the decision to marry on July 26 was easy: It's their anniversary.

In Binghamton, City Council Member Sean Massey said he did not necessarily expect waivers of the waiting period to be issued, meaning couples who came in for licenses Sunday could get married Monday.

Massey said the decision to open the city's office for four hours midday that Sunday was in part pragmatic, since it would avoid city workers having to juggle other duties with a possible crush of couples on Monday. He noted that Binghamton is just over the border from Pennsylvania, which does not recognize gay marriage.

But he said there was a symbolic reason too.

"We figured it's important and people want to be a part of this, on this first day," Massey said.

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Associated Press writer Chris Hawley in New York City contributed to this report.