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All Couples Who Entered Win City's Gay Marriage Lottery

By Jill Colvin | July 21, 2011 7:25pm | Updated on July 21, 2011 11:07pm
Jeanette Coleman and Kawane Harris will be legally married this Sunday at City Hall.
Jeanette Coleman and Kawane Harris will be legally married this Sunday at City Hall.
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Kawane Harris

MANHATTAN — Every gay couple that applied to tie the knot on Sunday will have the chance to take part in New York's historic first day of legal same-sex marriage — they just may have to schlep to Staten Island to do it.

While the city previously said that just 764 couples — both same-sex and not — would have the chance to marry on Sunday, all 823 couples who registered for the lottery will now be offered slots, a spokesman for the mayor said Thursday.

However, many who had applied to marry in Manhattan will be forced to travel out of the borough to get their licenses, after 533 applied for 400 slots at the downtown Manhattan City Clerk's office, mayoral spokesman Marc LaVorgna said.

Instead of turning away the 133 extra couples, the city decided to increase the number of slots in Manhattan to 459. The remaining 74 couples, selected randomly, are being offered the chance to marry in one of the outer boroughs.

Couples who've been waiting in limbo with their fingers crossed were elated by the news.

“They just told me that we won the lottery! I’m like running up and down, jumping around the house. Whoo!," said Norma Virola, who's been with her girlfriend Crystal Gonzalez for the past four years and had wanted to marry at the Manhattan branch.

"I’m so excited!" she said.

Couples were given the choice of marrying anywhere they wished.  Manhattan was by far the most popular destination.

Virola, 36, who lives in Queens, said she'd been waiting by the phone, frantically checking her email and the news all day. Then she got a call from 311 just after 7 p.m.

“We want to say congratulations. Your spot has been filled and you’re guaranteed to get married in Sunday," she recalled being told before realizing that all couples who'd applied shared her fate.

While she doesn't know where she'll tie the knot, she said she doesn't care whether it's Manhattan — as long as she can take part in the historic day.

ACLU staffer Patrick Plain was already out for sushi with his long-time partner near their home in Queens when he received a message from 311 telling him that his wedding was on for Sunday at the Manhattan branch where the ACLU is planning a massive celebration.

“We are just so excited. We’re elated as hell,” said Plain, 51, whose plans to marry had been thrown for a loop when the city announced it would hold the lottery to cope with the expected demand. Despite weeks of last-minute preparations, Plain would have postponed his celebration to Monday if the couple hadn't won.

Plain said he and Seongman Hong, 40, his partner of six years, had already toasted with not one, but two bottles of sake and were in the process of writing a note to friends about the wedding, telling them “It’s on!"

While he's thrilled he'll be able to wed in Manhattan, he said he would have traveled by cab to any borough to tie the knot.

"I don’t think it should be a big deal for anyone," he said. “I think it's worth the investment to part of history that day.”

Upper West Siders Kawane Harris and Jeanette Coleman were also celebrating Thursday after winning a Manhattan branch slot.

"It was very emotional," said Harris, 35, of the news. "We both burst into tears. There was just so much emotion that was going through us."

Now that the drama is over, the couple can focus on their big day.

"So much weight has been lifted off our shoulders," Harris said.

But for some, like Abby Peck, the news was bittersweet.

Peck, 36, who, works in SoHo, had planned to register her out-of-state marriage at the City Clerk's Office and celebrate Sunday, but canceled when the lottery was announced.

“Once we were worried about the lottery, we were just like, 'Forget it. Let’s let everyone else who really wants it go,'” she said.

But after learning that everyone had been picked, she said she regretted her choice.

“[At least] we’re already legally married," she said. "If I hadn't been I would have been extremely disappointed."

Couples are being encouraged to arrive early on Sunday and must be in line no later than 3:45 p.m.  The Manhattan Clerk’s Office will stay open as long as it takes to complete the ceremonies, the city said.