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Gay couples seek reassurance of marriage rights

One couple shares a home and a last name.

Another, health benefits and a piece of paper they hope would give them access to one another in a hospital.

What neither of the couples - both gay men and committed partners - has is the ability to get married in New York, a possibility that emerged Tuesday as Gov. David A. Paterson said he would introduce a proposal to legalize gay marriage.

Same-sex couples say it's a possibility that is both a practical and a civil rights issue.

There is the symbolism of marriage and there are the benefits - the ability to file joint state tax returns and make medical decisions for their loved ones, among others.

For Steve Kirschman, 54, and David Seeley, 63, of Roslyn, marriage would ensure that they can make medical decisions for one another and have inheritance rights.

"It would cost me $1,000 to $1,500 to do our wills and have health proxies because we can't get married," Kirschman said. "So I haven't gone through that."

Kirschman and Seeley are registered as domestic partners with North Hempstead Town, which they say should give them the right to make medical calls. But who knows if that piece of paper would be recognized by everyone, Kirschman said.

"In many cases, if I didn't have a piece of paper, people would shun me from a man I have lived with for the past 13 years and who relies on me for emotional sustenance," he said. "We as gay people also feel that we want to live until death do us part. It is very painful to realize that someone could get in between us because we are gay."

Mike Fallacara, 62, and Shane Fallacara, 40, of Nesconset, have been together for eight years.

They have written each other into their wills and made each other their health care proxies. But they believe such protections could evaporate without the security of marriage.

"Our lives together are as fundamental as any heterosexual couple, but we feel that danger of losing things that we've worked for together," said Mike Fallacara. "Who knows who is going to go first, and who knows what part of the family is going to say what?"

For couples, like Nicole Tryling, 27, and Courtney Drew, 26, of Stony Brook, just knowing that marriage is an option would be empowering.

"We joke about wedding rings and things right now because it's not an option for us," Tryling said. "If this passed, we would now have a choice."

Marriage became a reality for Michael Forester, 64, and John Mathena, 48, during a trip to Connecticut in February. The Westhampton Beach couple has been together for 20 years.

New York recognizes gay marriages that take place in other states. But passing its own law, Forester said, would be "a psychological boost."

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