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Two of a Kind

For reasons practical, political, and emotional, New York's gay couples are increasingly turning to commitment ceremonies to say "I do."

Before their wedding last August, Bradley Curry and Mel Bryant weren’t convinced a ceremony was necessary. “We thought it was just fluff, since it wasn’t 100 percent legal,” says Curry, an agent for hair and makeup artists and fashion photographers. It was their pastor (of all people) who persuaded them to arrange a civil-union ceremony. “She encouraged us to go through with it,” Curry notes, “by explaining that the union would strengthen our case in the eyes of a court should any kind of disaster strike.” Aside from such practical motivations, there was a political one as well. “We don’t really think of ourselves as activists,” says Bryant, who has a similar business repping prop and fashion stylists, “but we felt this was a way to make a stand.” The wedding celebration was initially an afterthought—a “sort of treat to ourselves,” he explains, for getting all the forms signed. But it quickly came to mean much more than that.

On the fifth anniversary of the day they met—they’ve been together ever since Curry lit Bryant’s cigarette at Dick’s Bar in the East Village—they had a Sunday ceremony in the garden of Caffe Torino on West 10th Street. Both wore dark jeans and white dress shirts with black Armani dress jackets—and matching Gucci wedding bands. “The biggest change,” says Bryant, “is in how we view our relationship. We were always committed, but now we have a heightened sense of responsibility to each other. Having taken this step, swapped rings, and said our commitment out loud makes me feel special.” He adds, “It’s improved my afternoon just thinking about it.”

Unlike San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, Bloomberg has not opened the doors of City Hall to the gay community. Civil-union ceremonies in New York, whether informal garden fêtes or deeply religious black-tie celebrations, are still just that—ceremonial. They are not legally recognized by the state, and don’t entitle participants to the legal benefits of marriage, like tax breaks, shared property, and adoption rights. Still, they’re gaining momentum. When Curry and Bryant’s pastor asked their mixed crowd of guests if they promised to support the couple in their life together, everyone unanimously replied “I will.” “It gave us goose bumps,” says Curry. Within their circle of gay friends, it set off a chain reaction. “Everyone wanted to talk about why we did it, how we did it,” says Bryant. “Now they’re considering marriage themselves.”

For some, not doing it was never an option. Michelle and Montel Cherry-Slack met in law school. Both had wanted to be married since they were little girls. They’d been together less than two years when, on Valentine’s Day 2002, Michelle booked Chez Josephine’s best table and proposed, pulling a diamond ring out of her pocket between dinner and dessert. That weekend, the couple went to a gay-owned resort in Atlantic City. When they arrived, there was champagne and red rose petals in the room. Choosing the ceremony venue was a no-brainer: Both Michelle and Montel are deacons at the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, which, like an increasing number of churches in the city, reaches out to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community and regularly hosts gay-marriage ceremonies. For the reception, they chose a hall in Hempstead, Long Island. “When I called and explained that we were two women,” says Michelle, “they said we were absolutely fine.”

While standing up in front of family, friends, and God is a tremendous validation, some gay couples remain intent on obtaining legal recognition. And as of last June, this became possible—albeit across the border. Since Ontario’s decision to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, many of New York’s betrothed have been heading north for “destination” ceremonies. Fourteen months after Roz Quarto, an attorney, and Judy Prichason, a psychotherapist, were united by a rabbi on a yacht at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, they took a vacation to Vancouver, and while there decided to apply for a marriage license. This time, it was a justice of the peace who did the honors.

Days after Brendan Fay, a community organizer and documentary filmmaker with a thick Irish brogue, and Tom Moulton, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist, had a wedding for 400 at the Episcopal Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights, they decided to make it legal with a second ceremony in Toronto. “Two months later, we flew up wearing the same kilts we wore at our New York wedding,” says Fay. “We raised an eyebrow or two when coming through the airport.”

The second ceremony was certainly a milestone, but the first one, legal or not, was more emotional. “Something changed for me the day we were married,” says Fay. “It was like knowing Tom was my life mate. It was a spiritual, physical bond that we’d never experienced before. Other people never knew how to refer to us—‘lovers,’ 'friends’ . . . so many names. Now,” he says happily, “it’s husband and husband.”

From the 2004 New York Wedding Guide

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