By Claire Walla
Ken Dorph remembers being here 32 years ago. It was 1969, just after the Stonewall riots which sparked the beginning of the gay pride movement in the United States. Back then, Dorph said the Gay Pride Parade drew just a few dozen participants.
This year, it was much different.
Last Sunday, June 26 at the annual Gay Pride Parade in New York City, Dorph stood among hundreds of people at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 37th Street next to his partner of three decades, Stuart Lowrie, and their two children, Darius and Leyla, both 10. Wearing a white cowboy hat and a perpetual smile, Dorph held up a sign: “2 Dads, 30 years, 2 Kids, 1 Mortgage, A Marriage. I [heart] NY.”
Several excitable parade participants stopped mid-procession to take a picture with the Sag Harbor resident and his hand-crafted sign, and many more paused a moment to photograph Leyla, who — eyes fixated on the parade — propped her arms and head atop a handmade sign of her own: “I [heart] My Two Dads.”
This is the first time in nearly 20 years Dorph has decided to attend the parade. And he’s done so for good reason.
Just two days earlier, on June 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Marriage Equality Bill, making New York the sixth state in the nation to legalize same sex marriage, giving same-sex partners the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples.
Dozens of people held signs Sunday afternoon thanking Governor Cuomo for his effort to pass the bill: “A promise kept,” they read.
The New York City Police Department estimates at least two million people eventually congregated in West Greenwich Village on Christopher Street, just outside the Stonewall Inn.
The hours-long procession saw everything from the avant garde (people wearing pasties, Speedos, silver shoulder spikes, handmade stuffed-animal-pants and skin-tight baby-blue teddy bear suits); to the professional (teachers, firefighters, police officers and flight attendants); the recreational (volleyball players, mountain climbers, skiers and sprinters); and even the conventional (church groups and politicians, including Governor Cuomo).
“It’s like a slice of every corner of society!” Dorph exclaimed. “To come to something like this and see a million gay people in one place …” Dorph’s jaw dropped as he demonstrated his joy. “It’s like, anyone can be gay. And they’re all free.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Marriage Equality Bill passed in New York with a vote that came down to the wire, ultimately passing 33 to 29.
This week’s legislation comes just three years after Proposition 8 in California, which overturned a state supreme court ruling giving same-sex couples a right to marry. The comparison wasn’t lost on parade-goers, who held signs condemning the west-coast proposition: “I’ll see your Prop 8, and I raise you New York,” one read.
But it also comes just two years after former New York Governor David Paterson introduced legislation to legalize gay marriage in the state. It was shot down then, even though Democrats had a majority in the Senate.
“My sense is that two years ago, if you took politics out of it, there was a majority of senators who would have voted for it then,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr.
But by Thiele’s account, the bill failed then because too many senators were not comfortable voting their convictions. For one thing, Thiele noted that the Senate votes alphabetically in a role-call procedure; he said too many swing voters were called to cast their votes in the beginning, and few were willing to be the first to come out in support of the legislation.
“Governor Cuomo was the difference maker on this,” Thiele continued. “His leadership created a climate by which more senators voted their convictions. He instilled them with the political courage to stand up for this.”
For Thiele, the fight for marriage equality is the continuation of a decades-long movement for civil rights.
“This the latest civil rights victory in a string of civil rights legislation that goes back to the ‘60s,” he explained. He evoked a phrase used by Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”
“This is a trend toward individual rights,” he stated. “I think Governor Cuomo said it right. People were focused on the first word of the bill, marriage, when the most important word was equality. To me what’s important is we as a state government treat people equally, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
MARRIAGE EQALITY ON THE EAST END
Back at the parade and surrounded by more rainbow-colored garb than you’d find at a Grateful Dead concert — there were at least 33 unique multi-colored articles of clothing and rainbow-print accessories, from flags, leis, boas and wigs, to paper roses, nail polish and neck ties — Dorph admitted the passage of the marriage equality act “is huge.”
Though he and Lowrie were legally married in Vancouver, he said they plan to marry in Dorph’s home state of New York some time next year.
Another Sag Harbor parent who came to the parade with her young daughter — she said she’s hesitant to have her name published because she works for the public school system — added that she will eventually marry her partner of over 16 years sometime next year, as well.
Though the law legalizing gay marriage will go into effect within a month, neither couple is eager to rush to the altar.
“I don’t want to just throw something together,” the woman said. “I want to really plan it.”
Here on the East End, Pastor Katrina Foster of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett and Incarnation Lutheran Church in Bridgehampton said she’s already received one request to perform a wedding ceremony for a lesbian couple since last week — a reality she’s incredibly excited about.
Foster herself made waves in the Christian community when — in 2002 — she officially came out to the congregation she was a part of in the Bronx. Later, in 2007, she came out on the floor of the church-wide assembly.
“It’s the highest legislative body in my denomination,” she said. “I really could have been defrocked at that moment.”
But, because of the strong support from the community immediately around her, she wasn’t. Foster has since moved to the East End where she’s brought her spirit of openness and unity to Amagansett, most recently leading the effort to establish St. Michaels as a Reconciling in Christ congregation: last month, the church officially adopted a public statement of welcome for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Like Dorph, she said the fight for equality is not over. But she hopes the Marriage Equality Act will begin to make it more comfortable for gay people, particularly those here on the East End, to come out — and not to be fearful of the consequences.
“It still is an act of courage to be out,” she said. “People are scared of losing their jobs. But the reality is, we have a lot of gay people on the East End and a lot of gay families living here full-time. Hopefully, as gay and lesbian weddings happen, people will look around and say, I’m not the only one.”
“I think courage is contagious,” she continued, “and I think this bill will help be part of that contagion.”