On the last Sunday of June every year, David Juhren marches in the Pride parade in New York City. For Juhren, the lively executive director of the White Plains LGBT community center The LOFT, New York City’s Gay Pride events this weekend are ripe with opportunities for activism as thousands commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1969.
This year, however, Juhren is attending a different kind of event. “I used to correct my friends, saying [Pride] will only be a parade when we gain our rights, and today we did just that,” he said.
Juhren’s jovial spirit was contagious among the dozens gathered on the steps of City Hall on Saturday afternoon with rainbow flags, signs and Human Rights Campaign stickers to celebrate the passage of New York’s same-sex marriage bill, which the state senate approved by a narrow margin of 33 to 29 Friday night. The group sang along to “Love and Marriage,” “White Wedding,” and “Chapel of Love” as Main street commuters honked in approval.
In the end, the mantra they shouted said it all: “What did we want? Equality! When did we get it? Yesterday!”
Organized by The LOFT, the organization’s website ensured the rally would transpire as long as the senate made a decision Friday night, only its purpose would be contingent on the vote’s results.
“And we don’t have a police permit,” said Juhren. “If they kick us out, we’ll just march down Main Street.”
Although Sen. Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie), one of three Republicans in support of the measure, underscored the religious exemptions outlined in the bills on the floor during the senate session, Saturday’s rally was far from secular. Gatherers invoked their faith via bullhorn, perplexed by far-right groups who cannot grasp ties between religion and the right to love freely.
“God wept tears of joy today,” proclaimed an attendee. Over 700 clergy from religious groups of various denominations across the state campaigned for marriage equality in Albany as the state senate debated the bill.
RoseAnn, 55, and George Hermann, 64, an activist couple from Washington Heights that founded the gay rights blog 4lgbtrights.org, campaigned for marriage equality in Albany with Jewish Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) for eight days, which amounted to forty-two hours of highway driving.
The Manhattan LGBT congregation has been in the press lately following an assault on one of their rabbis, the openly lesbian Sharon Kleinbaum, who was campaigning for equal marriage in Albany.
“She was spit on, and many people told her they would praying for her death that night,” said Mrs. Hermann.
Despite some frightening encounters, the Hermanns were determined to stick it out. Mrs. Hermann detailed the “tremendous group effort” behind the campaigns of LGBT advocate groups throughout the state, which she believed was lacking when statewide same-sex marriage legislation failed to pass in 2009.
“The technology of social networking was also more of a factor this time around,” said Mrs. Hermann. “We put together a rally with more than 500 people in less than 24 hours.”
Mr. Hermann added, “The wall for the event page on Facebook looked more like a Twitter feed with the constant updates.”
Following the vote, Mr. Hermann celebrated near Stonewall Inn, which he described as a homosexual version of World War II victory photographs with smart phones for candles, while his wife reveled in the surreal joy at the gates of the state capitol building in Albany, a scene she described as breathtaking.
The bill was passed despite the brash efforts of Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., the fiery Bronx orator and sole Democratic dissenter who held myriad anti-gay rallies in the weeks before the vote.
Diaz Sr., whose granddaughter is openly gay, has been criticized for failing to see the bill is not only about marriage as a rite, but as a preservation of the evolving concept of families in America.
“I feel this is a step forward for families,” said Scott Weiser, 37, District Community Organizer for New York State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer. “The state senate finally decided families could be protected under law.”
“For us, it’s more about equal rights laws – inheritance, hospital visits, for example,” said husband David Weiser, 47, Scott’s husband and a publicist for LGBT non-profit Lambda Peer Support Services.
The New Rochelle couple was married in New Paltz on July 10th 2004. They remarried in Provincetown, MA exactly five years later. The Weisers are an example of families the new law is intended to validate and protect.
“[With this victory], it’s not how we define marriage but how we define families that has changed,” said Juhren a father of two. “We need to show [religious groups] it’s about love.”
Joann Prinzivalli, mid 50s, a transgender woman from White Plains and former candidate for Westchester County Legislator, echoed David’s sentiments.
“Opponents of gay marriage say it’s Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve,” said Prinzivalli. “But if they read carefully, it’s Adam and Eve, David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi.”