Due to high demand, New York City officials have
announced a lottery opening Tuesday at noon for couples to win one of 764 spots
to marry in the city on Sunday, the day the new marriage equality law takes
"Sunday is going to bring the eyes of the nation to our city," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg of the day when city clerk offices throughout the five boroughs will be open outside normal business hours in recognition of the law, set to take effect 30 days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it on June 24. Volunteer judges will be on hand to waive a required 24-hour waiting period.
Due to the overwhelming response, Mayor Bloomberg, City Council speaker Christine Quinn and City Clerk Michael McSweeney held a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday morning to announce the lottery, devised as the fairest solution to accommodate some 2,661 couples, including an estimated 1,728 same-sex couples, that have already started the online marriage license application process since July 5. The overwhelming majority of applicants come from New York City, but couples from any state or country may marry in the state, which has no residency requirement.
"What we're seeing here is exactly what the opponents of marriage equality could never understand," said Speaker Quinn, an out lesbian planning to marry her partner next spring. "Something amazing has happened. Thousands and thousands of people have stepped out and said, 'My family matters, so much that I want my city to recognize it.'"
Approximately half of the 2,661 couples that registered online plan to
marry on Sunday, according to the city clerk, but that estimate does not
account for the fact that half of all couples typically arrive at marriage
bureaus without pre-registering. While it may be impossible to predict
how many couples will appear in person seeking a marriage on Sunday,
the number is certain to exceed the city's capabilities, which prompts
the need for the lottery.
"The record-breaking number of couples registering to marry shows how popular -- and right -- passing marriage equality was. The lottery is a good compromise," said Brian Ellner, senior strategist in New York for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement following the announcement. "Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn took this great problem to have and came up with a good solution. There will be a lot of love at the city clerk's office on Sunday. Every lawmaker, Democrat and Republican, should take heart that New York families are all the stronger."
According to city officials, 621 is the highest number of couples ever married in one day, for occasions such as Valentine's Day and August 8, 2008, a lucky day in Chinese numerology. The lottery, which will offer 764 spaces to same-sex and opposite-sex couples hoping to marry on Sunday, is a commitment from the city to accomplish 20% more, with more steps involved because of the need to see a judge and grant waivers.
"We're going to do 20% more than we've ever done, which is usually a one-step process, with a three-step process," said Speaker Quinn, adding wryly, "We want to make sure that Sunday is not like a trip to Motor Vehicles."
The public lottery opened at the city clerk's website Tuesday at noon and closes Thursday at noon, with no advantage based on time of entry. Winners will be notified by noon Friday. Applicants must specify the borough of their choice and can enter the lottery for only one borough, with 400 spots up for grabs in Manhattan, 112 each in Brooklyn and Queens, 98 in the Bronx, and 42 in Staten Island.
"If you do not want to get married on Sunday, either a same-sex or an opposite-sex couple, do not enter the lottery because you could win and then you are taking away a place from somebody else who could come," said Mayor Bloomberg.
Couples who have already begun the marriage license application online still must enter the lottery for the chance to marry on Sunday, when City Clerk McSweeney advises lottery winners to anticipate spending "one hour, for sure" at the marriage office. The names provided for the lottery must match the names used in the marriage license, a step to prevent fraud and ensure that no one tries to sell a place in history to the highest bidder, according to officials.
Win or lose, everyone who enters the lottery will receive an official document from the City of New York, according to Speaker Quinn, to show "you went out of your way to be part of history."
Couples who do not win the lottery to marry in New York City on Sunday can choose from other options. Many municipalities outside the city will also be open for business that day, and city clerk's offices in the city will offer extended hours throughout the following week, beginning Monday.
City officials said they were confident they could handle the expected surge in demand for marriages without a lottery system in place after Sunday.
"We do not anticipate people overnight camping in the streets," said Mayor Bloomberg. "It's not buying an iPad 2."