Dozens of same-sex couples wed in Bethpage

In what is believed to be the state's largest same-sex wedding ceremony, a multitude of same-sex couples tie the knot Tuesday at Carlyle on the Green in Bethpage. Videojournalist: Ed Betz (July 26, 2011)

After 53 years together, Coram residents Arthur Guilmette and Jim Lawrence don't have many firsts left.

But Tuesday, they marked another: becoming the first to walk down the aisle at a mass wedding for same-sex couples at Carlyle on the Green in Bethpage State Park.

Joined by 55 other couples and 1,023 guests, the two men in matching suits said their vows, cut the cake and toasted with Champagne.

"I wish, naturally, it had happened when I was younger, but I'm happy it's happening now," Guilmette said. "It's so nice. It's such a different feeling. I'm not afraid to say, 'I'm getting married.' The burden has been taken off my shoulders."

Billed as the largest same-sex wedding in New York, the event was both celebratory and political, with participants and organizers emphasizing their recent achievements toward equality and those yet to come.

Officiant Beverly Boyarsky told the crowd to take in the significance of the moment.

"Today is the day we have dreamed of all of our lives," she said. "Marriage equality and the significance of this day is important not only for those of us gathered here today, but future generations."

Couples cried, guests waved programs to stay cool in the midday heat and photographers scrambled for the best shots of the couples -- young and old, together for decades or in love for just a few years, and getting married in an intimate but public way.

"I felt this way before," Annie Shortino, 52, said of her commitment to her partner of 10 years, Marlene Altman-Kutler, 58. "It just feels more powerful now."

Tom Bittrolff, 66, who married his partner of 35 years, Jack Fleming, 62, said he was "happy, crying, nervous -- every emotion that you can experience in a couple of hours.

"We equate it to the civil rights movements of the '60s," Fleming said.

Boyarsky made a similar comparison, saying, "Finally, we are able to look beyond color, nationality, religious affiliation or sexual orientation."

Sandra Krac, 66, who married Judith Adessa, 58, her partner of nearly 31 years, called getting married "the very first step of really feeling equal with everybody else."

The Marriage Equality Act went into effect July 24, making New York the sixth and most populous state to legalize same-sex marriages.

"There's still more work to do," said David Kilmnick, chief executive of LI GLBT Services Network, which organized the event. "We need help to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act on the federal level so that everyone can truly be equal in the entire United States of America."

Tuesday, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Miles away in Bethpage, Boyarsky told the couples, "Our journey begins today."

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