LIers laud anniversary of same-sex marriage

Rev. Dr. Valerie Turnbull (left) along with her

Rev. Dr. Valerie Turnbull (left) along with her wife, Pat Locasto-Turnball, both of West Islip, place a copy of their marriage certificate and photo on the "marriage equality wall," at Long Island GLBT Community Center in Garden City. (June 22, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz)

John Garand and René Meyer have been a couple since shortly after they first locked eyes at an Off-Broadway theater 32 years ago.

The Hauppauge residents didn't feel a need to prove the legitimacy of their union to anyone, but when New York made same-sex marriage legal last year, they married at a Bethpage mass wedding to make a statement.

"We felt that our whole adult lives we have been New Yorkers, paying New York taxes, and why should we have to run off to another state to get married?" said Garand, 58.

Garand and Meyer were among more than 80 people, including advocates and couples, celebrating the first anniversary of the law's passage Friday at the Long Island GLBT Community Center in Garden City.

They traded stories about their lives together and pinned copies of marriage certificates and other mementos to a "marriage equality wall" display. Garand and Meyer's contribution: black-and-white photos of their young selves taken at a Times Square photo booth when they started dating.

Since the state's marriage equality law took effect on July 24, more than 3,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot statewide excluding New York City, according to the state Department of Health. That number represents 6.4 percent of all marriages.

To mark the law's passage, the Long Island GLBT Services Network, an umbrella group that includes the Garden City center, held a massive same-sex wedding ceremony featuring 56 couples.

But a year later, some still object to the law's implications.

The New York State Catholic Conference, an Albany group that represents bishops, opposed the bill on grounds of religious freedom.

Conference spokesman Dennis Poust cited a lawsuit seeking health care benefits for a same-sex spouse -- filed this week by an employee against St. Joseph's Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Westchester County -- as an example of how the law creates conflicts for Catholics and people of other faiths.

"We had been assured by legislators and the governor that nothing they would do would affect religious institutions," Poust said. "This continues to be a religious liberty issue."

GLBT network chief executive David Kilmnick said Friday's celebration was about rejoicing in the triumph of "equality for all New Yorkers," while remembering that those rights need to be protected and expanded.

Melissa and Haylee Hebenstreit, of Stony Brook, said they married in October after witnessing the joy of other same-sex couples who rushed to the altar. "I came to realize I wanted to make that commitment and have the ceremony because we loved each other," said Melissa Hebenstreit, 28.

Patti and BJ Ford, who married in Connecticut in 2009, were elated to see their marriage recognized in New York for a number of practical reasons, including joint tax filings and hospital visitation rights.

But there was something more subtle that pleased them about the law's passage.

"I can say I'm married to my soul mate and have that marriage respected," said BJ Ford, 57, of Levittown. "We don't have to hide our love."

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