By Charles Kaiser
Originally published on Advocate.com June 02 2009 12:00 AM ET
On September 1, 2002, The New York Times began a quiet revolution when it reported that Daniel Andrew Gross and Steven Goldstein had entered into a civil union in Vermont, before traveling to the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Montreal to exchange Jewish vows in front of Rabbi David M. Steinberg.
This was the first same-sex wedding announcement in The New York Times.
What seemed like something stunningly new back then has now become utterly routine. Just two years after that first announcement, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation counted 504 newspapers around the country that had followed the example of the Times, including six in Alabama and 31 in Texas that had started to print stories about same-sex marriages.
The Times itself has printed more than 300 same-sex wedding or commitment announcements in the last seven years. To celebrate this achievement as New York celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, Tom Kulaga, executive creative director of marketing at the Times, decided to track down as many of those couples as he could to invite them to a cocktail party that will take place Tuesday evening at the newspaper's headquarters on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.
"It was a real detective effort to locate these couples," Kulaga tells The Advocate . "Social networking played a huge role [Facebook, Twitter, and Six Degrees of GLBT Separation], and a volunteer team of about a dozen members of our GLBT employee group pitched in to try and locate individuals and invite them personally. So, all told, we feel very proud that we received acceptances from 75 couples."
Leslie Miller and Alicia Salzer -- both medical doctors -- were the first two women to announce their marriage in the Times ... and that led them to the fathers of their first child.
Anthony Brown and Gary Spino (who also got a story about their wedding in the Times ) are involved in an organization called The Wedding Party, which holds mass commitment ceremonies every year on the day of the gay pride parade in Manhattan. When they saw the story about Miller and Salzer in the Times , they contacted the women to ask them to speak at one of their events.
"We spoke there and became friends with them, and we explained that we wanted to have a child, and we wanted that child to have the benefit of knowing who the biological link was," Salzer says. "So at some point in our friendship they offered to be donors to us, and they're both dads to our Piper. And we're pursuing having another child. As far as Piper is concerned, she has two moms and two dads, and she knows their extended families. She has seven grandparents, and I can travel across the country to see relatives I don't even know -- and there's my daughter on their fridge!"
Andrew Lippa and David Bloch got married in California last summer, during that narrow window when same-sex marriage was legal there.
"It was important to me because it felt like an opportunity to so something as simple and as beautiful as announcing your wedding like straight people have been able to do for centuries," says Lippa, a composer. "For gay people it's a big statement. But [in a way] it was the opposite -- it was two people who love each other being supported by our community -- and the Times is our community newspaper. I think collectively we got 250 e-mails" after the announcement appeared.
Initially, David was less enthusiastic about the announcement than Andrew.
"It was important to Andrew," David says.
But then they both consented to a video, which the Times posted on its website, using a song Andrew had written as the soundtrack.
"David appeared like from around the corner, and it was like music and angels and harps and singing and glitter," Andrew gushes on camera. "It really was!"
Then he adds, "I'm a little grand. Andrew is a little shy."
Back in the 1970s and '80s, when Abe Rosenthal was its top editor and Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger was its publisher, the Times was considered by many to be one of the most homophobic institutions in America.
All that changed very dramatically when Arthur Sulzberger Jr. succeeded his father as publisher in 1992 and as chairman of the New York Times Co. in 1997. Sulzberger Jr. made it clear to everyone that he would not tolerate an iota of prejudice against the paper's LGBT employees, and the decision to start running same-sex wedding announcements was the culmination of that philosophy.
Kim Severson is a Times food reporter who announced her commitment to her partner, Katia Hetter, in the paper three years ago.
The first thing Severson reads every morning is the sports section, but on Sundays the first thing Katia reads are the wedding announcements ("as if they were the sports section," Severson says) -- so the announcement was most important to Hetter. But Severson concedes, "The Times announcement added a level of legitimacy that would have been missing -- there's nothing else like a wedding announcement in the Times. "
And there's nothing quite like the reach of the Times, either. When Laurence Diamond married Grant Schneider, the five-paragraph announcement caught the attention of someone Schneider hadn't heard from since they were in 10th grade biology together. "I grew up in a small town in Georgia," Schneider says. "The guy confessed to me that he had gotten married, but then he got divorced -- and now he's with a man."
Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, and his partner, Matthew Morningstar, were both 32 when their commitment ceremony was written about in the paper.
Morningstar was a graduate of Columbia College and Cornell Law School, while Van Capelle got his BA from Queens College in New York City.
"The Times demanded to see copies of Matthew's diplomas," says Van Capelle. "But they never asked for mine. I guess they thought no one would lie about going to Queens College."
Van Capelle says the Times didn't care that "one of my grandfathers was one of the last Dutch governor-generals of Indonesia or that my father was a vice president of his international union." But the fact that his partner's mother was "retired as the first vice chairwoman of the women's committee of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington" was deemed newsworthy by the paper of record.
The night before their wedding, Van Capelle and Morningstar asked 50 of their guests to come to the Gay Men's Health Crisis to serve food and make safe-sex kits. "It was one of the best parts of the entire weekend," Van Capelle remembers. "Because there at the table were a priest and a nun. And suddenly our 7-year old niece starts jumping up and down saying, "I ran out of the blue ones!'"
"And the nun says, 'Don't worry, dear -- use the purple ones. They're lubricated, but they do the same thing!'"
"Those are the moments I'll remember," says Van Capelle.