NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (Reuters) - Two women, both grandmothers, became New York state’s first legally wed same-sex couple early on Sunday, with traditional honeymoon capital Niagara Falls as the backdrop for the historic event.
Kitty Lambert, 54, and Cheryle Rudd, 53, from Buffalo, New York, were married just after midnight Saturday at Niagara Falls’ State Park’s Luna Island, near the U.S.-Canada border.
The women, with five grown children between them from previous marriages, were joined by several hundred friends, family, supporters and even a group of tourists for the first marriage of two members of the same sex since New York became the sixth, and largest, U.S. state to legalize gay marriage.
Lambert, an art gallery manager, wore a blue satin dress she sewed herself, while Rudd, who works in a food processing plant, opted for a white tuxedo with tails. The grandmothers have been a couple for over a decade.
The civil ceremony, which followed a service conducted before midnight by Jewish, Baptist and Episcopal clergy members, was officiated by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.
By the time Dyster reached “by the laws of the state of New York,” his words were drowned out by thunderous applause.
Lambert choked up during the religious service, answering unequivocally “yes, yes, yes!” when asked if she was making the choice of her own free will.
The women danced on stage after being married to Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory.”
In honor of the first ceremony, the world-renowned water cascade was lit with rainbow-colored lights in a colossal, shimmering hommage to the multicolored gay pride flag.
Tourists who happened upon the ceremony and the attendant crush of media were delighted.
“This is pretty cool,” said Australian Andrew Holder, adding “You come to see the falls, you see history.”
“Serendipity is amazing,” echoed Adam Jowicz of Birmingham, England.
Earlier, the women said their marriage represented a major step for gay rights in the United States, with Lambert calling it “an amazing moment.”
“We’re achieving that real American Dream to be treated like everybody else and be protected under all those laws.”
Former state senator Sam Hoyt, who recently resigned to work for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called his vote on the issue “the most important, significant vote I ever took.”
A judge had agreed to waive the customary 24-hour waiting period on the women’s marriage license before the weekend ceremony so that the couple could make it official the moment they said “I do” as the state law took effect.
Each had lobbied on behalf of gay marriage, with Lambert founding the local group OUTspoken For Equality in 2004.
More than 40 other gay couples will say “I do” during a joint ceremony at Niagara Falls on Monday.
New York City plans to open its marriage bureaus in all five boroughs on Sunday. Expecting lines around the block, city officials initially set a lottery capping the number of marriages to 764 couples, but later decided to accept all 823 applicants, gay and straight alike.
The expected rush of weddings across New York state has sent marriage bureaus scrambling for staff to officiate and judges to approve the marriages.
Dyster estimated that legalizing gay marriage would add some $400 million to the state’s strained economy over the next three years.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had pushed for same-sex marriage, is set to marry two men who belong to his City Hall inner circle at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, on Sunday evening.
Civil liberties activists in New York say the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage sends a message to the U.S. Congress that it must repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and a woman and which excludes same-sex couples from federal benefits.
Editing by Chris Michaud and Doina Chiacu