By Della Hasselle, Nicole Bode, Jill Colvin and Dan Marrin
LOWER MANHATTAN — Hundreds of elated same-sex couples looking to tie the knot, some after decades of waiting, descended on the Manhattan clerk's office Sunday, bursting into song and cheers and refusing to wilt under the heat as they celebrated the historic first day of legal gay marriage in the state.
“This is huge. This is changing the world thousands of ways at a time," said an ecstatic Laura Moore, 54, as she stood in line with Maryanne Bellimo, 63, her girlfriend of 15 years.
Dressed in "We ♥ NY" t-shirts with "Spouse A" and "Spouse B" written on the back, the pair said they'd been waiting for the historic day since 1998, when they had an "illegal wedding" to mark their union.
Moore said they left their wedding album half-empty at the time "waiting for the day we could do this."
“Even if we were 100 years old and living at a nursing home at the time, we were still going to do this by any means possible," she said.
Many couples rose before dawn to head downtown, where supporters created a carnival-like atmosphere, handing out bouquets of sunflowers, tossing rainbow-colored confetti and playing songs on the violin and accordion despite the taunts of protesters.
The anxious pairs braved the nearly 90-degree temps for an average of three hours on lines that snaked around the block before receiving their nuptials. Despite the long wait and the muggy weather, many complemented the city's organization of the event.
"It's wonderful, though, absolutely worth the wait," said teacher Carl Wassmann, 52, who was waiting to get hitched to his partner, Juan Carlos Perez, 54, a dental hygienist from The Bronx. "I would do it all over again."
While usually closed on Sundays, the clerk's offices opened specially across the city to marry the first same-sex couples exactly one month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the historic legislation that made New York the largest of six states to allow same-sex unions.
By the end of the day, some 366 marriage license were given out and 293 marriages had taken place in Manhattan, according to the city. That was a good portion of the 659 licenses granted and 484 marriages performed citywide.
Of those getting marriage licenses, 69 in Manhattan traveled from out of state. Citywide, 107 came from places as far away as California to take advantage of the same-sex nuptials.
"We're here today because we wanted to express our commitment and love together, and signify it like other couples," said Daniel Mackey, 53, a retired NYPD Detective who works at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who was among those in line.
Mackey and his partner, Dennis Josue, 50, who owns a flower shop on the Upper East Side, came dressed in pinstriped suits and matching purple shirts. Mackey also wore a 9/11 pin on his lapel, to commemorate his surviving the terror attacks.
"This is thanks to Governor Cuomo," said Mackey, who lives in Sayreville, NJ, "We were just so happy. We were jubilant. Eventually it's going to go nationwide, it's just a matter of time."
Two gray-haired seniors, Phyllis Siegel, 77, and Connie Kopelov, 85, a couple of 23 years, were the first to say '"I do" in Manhattan.
Siegel and Kopelov were among the first six couples selected to marry in Manhattan's three wedding chapels. The rest of the couples were served on a first-come first-served basis.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city's first gay speaker, was on hand for the celebration.
“Today as I stood by [City Clerk Michael McSweeney] and heard him say, 'By the power of the state of New York, I marry you,’ to two women who’ve been together for over two decades… it sent a chill up my spine,” she told reporters following the ceremony.
Quinn also announced the city is giving away free honeymoons to five couples as well as free stays at hotels and tickets to Broadway shows to help mark the occasion.
One couple from each borough is being selected at random from among those who entered the marriage lottery for the honeymoons. The results could be announced as soon as this week.
Couples exiting the Clerk's Office were met with rousing cheers by throngs of supporters who gathered outside, blowing bubbles and waving rainbow flags.
Nearby, staff from the West Village's Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the city's famous LGBT Synagogue, married couples in traditional Jewish ceremonies under a large, rainbow Chuppah at the corner of Worth and Centre Street.
To signify their unions, the couples crushed light bulbs — in ziplock bags, to protect the concrete from broken glass. To celebrate, smiling grooms were hoisted into the air on chairs as a small crowd sang "Mazel Tov and Simcha Tov" accompanied by tambourines.
Christine Tulley 28 and Rachel Baker, 33, traveled from Long Island to be part of the celebration at 141 Worth St., where a line of couples waiting to be married snaked several times around the block.
“This is the place where everything happened. [The] Stonewall [Riots] happened here. Manhattan is the place we knew we had to do it," Tulley said.
Jon Weatherman, 56, of Washington Heights and his fiancee Richard Pleak, 57, a doctor, secured the second place in line after waking up at 4 a.m.
The couple, who've been together for 33 years said they were thrilled to learn they were selected to be among those allowed to wed Sunday. While the city had originally intended to limit the number of couples through a lottery, in the end, all who entered were given slots.
Some 459 of those were in Manhattan, the borough with by far the greatest demand. There were so many couples looking to wed in Manhattan that some were sent to the other boroughs.
"It feels very good. Yesterday I couldn't say, 'I'm married.' Today I'll be able to say that, and it will really mean that I'm married," said Weatherman, who works for the New York Historical Society and wore a special pin on his shirt from the Shar-Pei Club of America, in honor of the couple's dog, Shaomai, who died in 1996. He also carried a photo of his dog and his mother, Elizabeth, who died in 2003.
They kept their outfits casual, wearing cargo shorts or culotte pants and shirts with a pair of festive silver bows on their pockets. They said they planned to mark the day with an after-ceremony lunch with their witness, "and then we'll go back to our lives."
Despite the opposition from religious groups, at least one church, 4th U, on the Upper West Side, prepared to open its doors at 1 p.m. to couples looking to marry.
Ceremonies were also being held in Washington Square Park. Ministers Annie Lawrence and Will Mercer were set to hitch couples at Washington Square North and Fifth Avenue until 5 p.m.
And celebrations were planned across the city. From 5:30 - 8:30 p.m., the New York City LGBT Center planned to host a reception for newly married couples at 208 W. 13th St. And Rockbar, at 185 Christopher St. in the West Village, was hosting a Gay Marriage Beer Blast and Chapel of Love Wedding Reception at 4 p.m.
Da'onna Johnson and Amanda Mason, 20, both clad in white, traveled from Easton, Pa. to marry at the city clerk's office.
"It's really overwhelming," said Johnson, a DJ, who met fashion industry worker Mason, at the age of 12. "You have a feeling that we're here today making history."
Still, Johnson was nervous about the challenges that lay ahead.
"We're really nervous," she said. "Even though there's a lot of people for us, you have to ask yourself, 'Are we going to have it hard?...In the future, are we going to have to defend today?"
The last couple out the door at 4:30 p.m. was Sas Velez, 49 and Mery Napoles, of North Bergen, NJ, who had known each other for 17 years and had been together since 2005.
The pair, who have four children, had toyed with the idea of getting married for years, but decided to take the plunge while they were celebrating at the Stonewall Inn the night the Marriage Equality Act passed last month.
"We may be the last today, but we're far from the last couple," said Velez. "I think today is going to inspire a lot of people to come out of the closet."
Added Napoles: "And it's not going to end here," she said. "New York is the capital of the world, and when people see that it's now happening here, they're going to start doing it in other places around the country and around the world."