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Long Island

Gay LIers react to marriage equality law

Sally and Beverly Boyarsky with their son Jarrett.

Sally and Beverly Boyarsky with their son Jarrett. (June 16, 2011) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

In an instant, the years of frustration and heartache for New York's gay couples melted away, replaced by joy and jubilation.

Passage of the state's Marriage Equality Act means wedding planning for Long Island's estimated 3,500 same-sex couples can finally begin.

Several local gay couples and their advocates shared their personal stories.

A union, documented

Roy Schmitt and John O'Hara have been a couple for 31 years, but they still obsessed over documenting their lives together should the legitimacy of their union ever be questioned.

"Upstairs, I have boxes with almost every check we wrote on a joint bank account since 1980," said Schmitt, 64, a retired school administrator.

The Lynbrook couple also has health care proxies enabling each to make life-or-death decisions for the other, powers of attorney allowing each to represent their joint interests -- even written agreements detailing funeral arrangements.

In 2005, a justice of the peace married them in Toronto. Their daughters served as witnesses.

Denied that right in their home state and country, they viewed the wedding as another precaution.

"Legally, there's not much to stand on when you are in this situation," said O'Hara, 57, a business analyst.

They had a bad experience shortly after they became a couple, when O'Hara was rushed to an emergency room with bronchitis and was told only next-of-kin could enter the examination room. "We felt discriminated [against]," he said.

The couple realized their marriage's validity in their home state mattered at another level when they returned from the ceremony in Canada.

"We came home and there was still that hollow feeling," Schmitt said.

Thrilled by Friday's vote, O'Hara and Schmitt said they're happy for young gays and lesbians.

"We had to wait decades and decades for this," O'Hara said, "and they are 40 or 50 years ahead of us."

'At peace right now'

Diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that left her bedridden and wondering whether she'd even survive chemotherapy, Beverly Boyarsky felt the need to tie up some family loose ends.

Boyarsky asked her partner if she could adopt the teenage son they'd been raising for seven years. Sally Giardullo, the child's biological mother, liked the idea.

To overcome legal barriers that don't exist for heterosexuals, the lesbian couple from North Babylon hired an attorney and began a months-long fight. Giardullo had to relinquish her parental rights so both could petition the court for custody.

They won their fight in 2007. The following year, the couple held a commitment ceremony, inviting friends and family.

Their now-17-year-old son, Jarrett, walked them down the aisle. Sally Giardullo became Sally Boyarsky.

Later that year, they went to Connecticut and took advantage of that state's same-sex marriage law to make it even more official.

"We wanted to declare our love and show we were a family,"said Beverly Boyarsky, 53, a former public relations director who is now in remission. "I didn't know how long I was going to be on this Earth, and I wanted Sally to have that wedding."

Sally Boyarsky, 46, executive assistant for a liquor distributor, called New York's newly minted acceptance of same-sex marriage "a historic time." They're now thinking of renewing their vows and registering as a married couple in New York.

"Sally and I just hugged for the longest time when the vote came down," Beverly Boyarsky said. "It's good to know that kids in New York can love who they love and get married and be recognized. . . . It makes me feel very at peace right now."

'Very on edge'

Michael and Danielle Perkins, brother and sister, live under the same roof in Plainview.

Growing up, they shared a dream: going to college, launching a career, finding the right person and raising a family.

But when it came to marriage and a family, their future paths diverged. Michael, 21, is gay.

Recently graduated from Boston's Emerson College, he studied theater design and marketing. He isn't looking to marry yet, but his sister and their parents, Heidi and Fred Perkins, had been working to make sure he has that right in New York.

They recently organized a letter-writing campaign, recruiting friends and neighbors to lobby lawmakers in favor of the Marriage Equality Act.

"I'd like to see my brother walk down the aisle someday,"said Danielle, 18.

"As parents of a gay child and a straight child, the inequality in the law was particularly striking,"said Fred Perkins, 51. "No one wants their child to have lesser rights than others."

Michael said he had been "very on edge," awaiting the outcome of the vote on the marriage bill. On Friday night, he sat on front of the TV with a friend as the drama unfolded.

He called relatives and people who signed petitions to thank them. He and a friend celebrated by going out for ice cream.

"This is completely life-altering for me," he said. "I can think about the future in a more realistic way and know that I'll be accepted in my state."

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