Yesterday was the first day same-sex couples were allowed to legally marry in the state of New York. TIME sent photographers to each of New York City’s five boroughs to document the harmonious unions taking place throughout the city.
Damian Ross and Gary Cosgrove joined the quickly growing line outside the Manhattan City Clerk’s office in lower Manhattan a little before 8:30 a.m. on July 24, 2011 — the first day the state of New York allowed the couple to legally wed. After almost 15 years together, they’re ready to “take the next step.”
The couple enters the line, a tightly packed queue crowded with couples, their families, reporters and those offering their services to the soon-to-be’s. (Says one wedding planner distributing flyers: “Doesn’t matter how you do it — sooner or later, you’re gonna need a plan.”) Waiting outside the building with two witnesses and several family members, Damian and Gary chat excitedly.
At one point, the heat begins to get to Gary. Understandable, because his outfit, a sequined, full-length black robe with a crown and a silver chain, wasn’t designed for New York City heat waves. Nevertheless, as a past President of the Imperial Court of New York, he proudly wears his formal attire. Damian is dressed in a fancy white admiral’s jacket with an elaborate gold lapel hanging across his chest. He is all smiles, making sure that others know how happy he is. With every picture, the couple beams, glowing in the way that one expects a couple to glow on their wedding day.
Ninety minutes later, Gary and Damian reach the steps leading to the clerk’s office. Over the din of a “If you’re gay and you know it, stomp your feet” chant from the line behind them, the couple climb the steps. Damian nervously mentions that his heart is racing and works to fill every moment with excited conversation. Gary acts reservedly and makes jokes about his last chance to run away. “No one could take this from us,” exclaims Damian proudly as he walks through the doorway. “Yes! Yes!”
In the hallway inside, hundreds of people stand clustered in small groups. Each couple receives a slip of paper with a number that’s displayed on a monitor and announced by a mechanical voice. The entire hall glances anxiously at the screen as a new number is called. Occasionally, a cheer roars through the hall — another couple has tied the knot — or, more accurately, signed the papers.
As the numbers climb higher, couples pull away from their entourages, cherishing short moments together to settle nerves, and in some cases, to reflect on the significance of the day.
“C-753 to Counter 12” calls the loudspeaker as Gary and Damian rush to the counter, passing a newlywed couple posing for a photo with the clerk that just issued their marriage license.
As the clerk processes their information, Gary fiddles with his phone while Damian talks to Ari, one of the couple’s witnesses. The clerk, Melissa, asks them to confirm that their information is correct. They nod. Melissa clicks next.
Everyone waits for the official license to print. Even on such a historic day, technology once again proves that it hurries for no one. With an oversize orange pen, Gary and Damian sign their license, then whisk away to a back room with numerous folding chairs and even more numerous judges, all waiting in black robes to marry the mass of couples waiting outside the building.
After a short conversation, Gary and Damian enter a small office with Judge Verna Saunders. Five minutes later, they emerge a legally wed couple.
By day’s end, 659 marriage licenses are issued and 484 marriages are performed.
“Marriage equality is alive and well,” New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the body’s first openly gay leader, said in a press briefing outside the clerk’s office. “All of the great stories and love that are pouring out today — they show what all of us who have fought a lifetime for this knew and know, that moving rights forward makes us a better society.”