CITY HALL — After what seemed to many like the wait of a lifetime, couples hoping to marry on the first day of legal gay marriage in New York will now have to win a lottery, city officials announced Tuesday.
Due to record demand, the city will launch a lottery to allow select couples to wed on Sunday, July 24th, thirty days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the historic legislation.
Officials said that demand for marriage ceremonies on Sunday had reached a level beyond what the city clerk’s offices could possibly handle. An online pre-registration system had already received 2,661 applications as of Tuesday morning — at least half of whom had been expected to marry Sunday.
“The last thing we want to have happen is for couples to wait on line for hours and hours only to walk away upset on what was supposed to be the biggest day of their lives," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference announcing the plan.
The lottery opened at noon Tuesday and will close at noon Thursday, giving couples 48 hours to register online or through 311. Winners will be notified by email or by phone on Friday July 22 by noon.
The city will offer guaranteed slots to 764 couples — both same-sex and not — including 400 at the Manhattan City Clerk's branch. Even with the cap, the number will far surpass the record number of marriages performed in the city on a single day. The previous record was 621.
Unlike most wedding days, each couple will also have to go through a three-step process that includes getting their licenses, having a 24-hour state-mandated waiting period waived by a judge and then participating in the marriage ceremony.
The news was a surprise to many who have been busily preparing for weddings Sunday and had mixed reactions to the new.
“To have this further delayed is a huge frustration for people waiting more than a lifetime for it,” said Jake Goodman, a founding member of Queer Rising. But, he said, "the great news for us is there’s an unlimited amount of time.”
Brian Ellner of the Human Rights Campaign, which was among the groups that spearhead the gay marriage push, also acknowledged potential frustrations, but defended the city's move.
"I think, frankly, it’s a good solution to a great problem to have," he said. “The fact is we live in a real world.”
While City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she sympathized with couples' frustrations, she said the lottery was the best option to make sure couples are served.
“We want to make sure that Sunday is not like a trip to motor vehicles," she said. "We want to make sure it is a day you will remember forever.
But one couple won't have to hold their breath in hopes of a winning number: John Feinblatt, the mayor's chief advisor for policy and strategic planning, and Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, who have gotten a free pass from the mayor, who will marry them at a ceremony at Gracie Mansion Sunday evening.
“I’ve made one exception for the lottery,” Bloomberg said, adding that he believes the event will be an important symbol of the day.
For those who don't make the cut, the city is also offering a consultation prize: a certificate from the city saying they participated in the first day of marriage equality in the state.
"You will get a certificate saying you tried," said the mayor.
Despite a previous slip-up in the form of an outdated form that temporarily forced same-sex couples to identify as either "groom" or "bride" when the pre-registered online, City Clerk Michael McSweeney said he expects the day to go on without a hitch.
"They can expect a very good and efficient day at the city clerk’s office on Sunday and we look forward to being part of history," he said.
As for Monday, when the clerks' offices will be holding extending hours to accommodate the rush, Bloomberg said the city doesn’t anticipate couples camping overnight in the streets.
“It’s not buying an iPad 2,” the mayor said.
“It’s way better," chimed Quinn — who is not planning to register herself, she said.
Couples can register for the lottery here.