The wedding party stood out even by the joyous standards of New York on the first day of the new marriage equality law. A beaming mother from Brooklyn, some relatives from the Midwest, and a small entourage of other supporters watched as two grooms and brides took photos against a City Hall backdrop before their turn at the bustling counter of the New York City Clerk's office in Manhattan.
"This is a double same-sex sibling wedding," explained Eric Bacolas, who planned to marry his partner, Michael Bonomo, early in the afternoon. His sister Elise Bacolas would also marry her partner, Jenna Glazer. Both couples entered a public lottery and secured spots to be among the 659 couples who received service throughout the five boroughs on Sunday.
City officials reported that 365 marriage licenses were issued in Manhattan, home of the busiest and largest marriage bureau, a recently renovated former office of the Department of Motor Vehicles a few blocks from City Hall in Lower Manhattan. Some couples waiting among the art deco details of the 1920s building chose only to receive the license and then get married elsewhere. Others, like Eric and Michael and Elise and Jenna, opted for a ceremony officiated by a judge, which the family hoped to hold in the same wedding chapel at the same time.
"It's a symbolic statement," said Eric, 41, the chief talent officer for a marketing firm. He said that he and Michael, an interior architect originally from Michigan, first wanted to be sure that Elise, 39, and Jenna would win a place to marry on Sunday. Each couple has been together 12 years, a mere coincidence, they claim, with the women's relationship being four months older.
There was also a practical element to the occasion.
"What a great way for my mom to marry off two kids on the same day," said Eric.
Stella Bacolas, a native of Greece who moved to New York City as a teenager, agreed.
"It's amazing. It is a dream come true," she said. "This way, they have all the rights just like everybody else."
Elise and Jenna, who like Eric and Michael live in Brooklyn, know the ongoing struggle for equal rights well. Last year the women appeared at the Manhattan bureau for one of the "marriage-like" ceremonies the city began to offer couples registering domestic partnerships. The option proved controversial, with some critics arguing it highlighted the second-class status of same-sex couples, but for Elise and Jenna, who has survived multiple bouts of cancer necessitating hospital visits from her partner and concerns about medical decision-making authority, every little step helps along the way to full equality.
On Sunday the women, who want to start a family, felt as if they took a big leap in New York.
"It's different. This is real. This is marriage," said Jenna, a Long Island native and director of development for a nonprofit for young women facing breast cancer. "This is what all gay couples deserve. This is like the happiest place in New York City today."
Elise, the senior project manager for an online marketing company, said, "It is so much better because we actually feel like we're getting something. Not only is this another ceremony, but it is actually a marriage ceremony. We just wish the rest of the country will follow."
"I think that's the part of it that's still sad," said Jenna, an attorney who closely watched the "heartbreaking" testimony during the congressional hearings on repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act last week. "I'm hoping that politicians see that this is a change in society and people want this. Even if not, people shouldn't be playing politics with our lives."
Like many couples on Sunday, who came from as far away as Hawaii, California, and Utah to marry, the women viewed the new law in New York, now the most populous state with marriage equality, as a turning point for the country.
Elise, who described herself as "cautiously hopeful" in the weeks leading up to the vote in the New York legislature last month, expressed confidence about seeing the remaining barriers fall more rapidly. Because of DOMA, for example, married same-sex couples still cannot file their federal taxes jointly or petition for citizenship if one of the partners is an immigrant.
"It feels achievable now," said Elise.
But first, she, Jenna, Eric, and Michael needed to celebrate the victory on Sunday with 100 family members and friends after leaving the Manhattan clerk's office. The name of their destination in the East Village, appropriately enough, was the Double Crown.