In 2004, then-Nyack mayor John Shields sought out marriage licenses for 10 same-sex couples only to be denied, which in turned caused him to sue New York State.
Seven years later, Shields will finally get to marry some of those couples, as well as others thanks to New York passing the Marriage Equality Act in late June. Shields said the Orangetown Town Board made him a marriage officiant for a year so he can perform some of the same-sex marriages he fought to perform in the past.
On Wednesday night, Shields was a guest speaker at a Volunteer Counseling Services event in Nyack at the Nyack Seaport to honor the three local state representatives who were in favor of marriage equality, State Sen. David Carlucci (D-New City), Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern).
“I didn’t think it would pass this soon,” Shields said. “I didn’t even think they’d bring it to a vote.”
VCS Assistant Executive Director Phyllis Frank also wasn’t so sure marriage equality was going to pass.
“I used to say to myself that I just hope I see it in my lifetime. Of course, that’s what someone typically says when they’re not sure if something is going to happen, though,” Frank said. “I’m thrilled that it did, and the next step is get it pass nationally.”
The event on Thursday asked for donations from guests in increments of a dollar per “yes” vote in the New York State Senate for contributions of $33, $66, $99 and so on. The money will go to VCS so they can continue putting on community education programs, as well as Gay Pride Rockland events. Frank also said it was important to hold the event to honor the three state representatives for their work in helping the act pass.
“The three state representatives are part of the delegation that made this possible,” she said. “We need to celebrate the passing of this extraordinary act. It wipes away the state-sanctioned discrimination in New York.”
Frank said VCS held the event at the Nyack Seaport because the location has worked with them before, as well as hosted weddings and other celebrations for same-sex couples in the past. The hor d'oeuvres were donated by the Nyack Seaport as well, she added. With food, a cash bar and a packed room, the event had a festive atmosphere. One couple even handed out leis to those in attendance.
Other local officials in attendance Wednesday night included former Orangetown Supervisor Thom Kleiner, Orangetown Town Board Councilwoman Nancy Low-Hogan, Clarkstown Town Board Councilwoman Stephanie Hausner and others.
Along with Shields, current Nyack Mayor Richard Kavesh was also in attendance, happily walking around wearing a lei taking pictures of guests. He is looking forward to July 24, the day when the equality act will go into effect.
“I just want to let everybody know that as of July 24, Nyack is open for business. I’m looking forward to the ceremonies,” Kavesh said. “So far nobody has said they’re going to get married in Nyack on the 24. I have one on Aug. 14, but I don’t want to wait that long. I hope we’ll have some before that.”
If Dan Sherman and Richard Skipper are going to get married, they won’t be doing it on July 24. While the couple who have lived together for 21 years isn’t sure if they’ll get married yet, Sherman said if they did it would be in the fall.
“I have all the things already set up that I want to, like hospital visitation and things with our attorney,” Sherman said. “But it’s still meaningful, so we might just do it.”
Frank, who has known the couple for awhile, said she wishes all couples could be as sweet as Sherman and Skipper.
“I don’t get couples who are constantly swinging at each other, like Martha and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Skipper said. “It doesn’t make any sense why you’d want to be in a relationship like that.”
Skipper said he and Sherman were watching the votes come in excitedly on the TV, and he was shocked just how many people wrote or called to congratulate them right after the act passed. Sherman said there is one thing he’s nervous about if the couple were to get married: the wedding.
“We’d have to have this big affair, do it up like the Vanderbilts,” he said. “We just have so many supportive people who have said if we get married they want to be at the ceremony.”
The couple, who live in Sparkill, said they come to a lot of VCS events and wanted to come out to show their support for the local officials who voted in favor of equality.
“All of these people are saying they want to honor us, but really they should be honoring themselves,” Carlucci said.
Even though Wednesday was a night for celebration, Carlucci warned the guests that their efforts aren’t done.
“We’ve got to be vigilant in terms of educating our neighbors,” he said. “This has to be accepted. People have to be able to show who they are.”
He also said that this decision will help set the tone for future generations. Carlucci drew the only groan from the audience of the night when he reminded them he was in high school only a few years ago, but he brought it up to say that while in school, he can’t remember any of his friends being openly homosexual. By passing the equality act and continuing to educate, Carlucci said hopefully future generations won’t feel a need to hide.
Still, he said there is work to be done before the community gets there, as he received a lot of phone calls by people against the equality act. Carlucci also said that he’s been out at events recently and people have come up to him to tell him they are disappointed in him for voting for marriage equality. Zebrowski said many of the opponents to the act have come at the issue from a religious angle, but that they’ll find that they still can practice their religion exactly the same now as they could before the passing of the bill.
While this is Carlucci’s first year in the State Senate, Jaffe and Zebrowski had both been there, and both voted for equality the first three times it came up in recent years. Jaffe said she wasn’t that optimistic it would pass this year, as she thought they’d be close last year when it didn’t get through.
“I wasn’t sure up until the last moment,” she said. “I’m so happy, so proud to be a part of it.”
Zebrowski told the crowd about going to a meeting with the other Democrats in the assembly for the first time back in 2007. Outside of Jaffe, Zebrowski said he didn’t know many people, and just so happened to sit next to Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, who represents the west side of Manhattan and is the first openly gay man in the New York State Assembly.
Within five seconds of sitting down, O’Day asked Zebrowski if he was in favor of same-sex marriage. Zebrowski told the story as a way to show the audience that he and his colleagues have been trying to get a marriage equality act passed for years.
“We also have to remember that people have been redefining marriage forever,” Zebrowski said. “It used to be about property and land, and then it was whoever your parents told you to marry, and then it started moving toward marrying the person you love.”
That was a point that Skipper said really stuck with him.
“It is fascinating to think about,” he said. “We’re in a society where two people who barely know each other can get drunk, go to a wedding chapel and get married right then, but we’re denying people in longterm relationships a chance to get married.”
Zebrowski also said this will have a great social significance for years to come, which Kavesh agreed with.
“What’s the big deal about same-sex marriage?” he said. “I think that’s what we’ll all be saying in 15 years, probably even shorter. It will be so integrated into or society that we’ll look back and wonder why this was such a big issue.”