46 gay couples marry at Niagara Falls wedding

Associated Press
Phyllis Siegel, 77, right, and Connie Kopelov, 85, both of New York, embrace after becoming the first same-sex couple to get married at the Manhattan City Clerk's office, Sunday, July 24, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
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Phyllis Siegel, 77, right, and Connie Kopelov, 85, both of New York, embrace after becoming the first …

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — Forty-six gay couples exchanged vows against the backdrop of Niagara Falls on Monday, a day after New York became the sixth and largest state to recognize same-sex marriage.

The newlyweds wore matching tuxedoes and suits for the 30-minute ceremony, which opened with a playing of Ray Charles singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The group wedding came as hundreds of same-sex couple across the state began getting married Sunday, the first day New York allowed them.

"Everything we've felt and lived in our lives, it's legal," Candy Casey, of Buffalo, said Monday after marrying her partner of 21 years, Diane Wnek. "To be able to say to the rest of the world, 'Yes we count, we're legal.'"

Casey, 52, and Wnek, 69, used the matching rings they bought for each other when they first got together.

A light drizzle fell as couples ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s gathered for the ceremony.

"We've always known our love is legitimate and now the rest of the world knows," Wnek said.

Officials in Niagara Falls hope the ceremony will help the city perched on one of the world's great natural wonders recapture its storied identity as the world's "Honeymoon Capital."

The city has made the most of its nickname, the Rainbow City, playing on the rainbow symbol of gay pride. With its Rainbow Bridge to Canada, Rainbow Boulevard and Rainbow-themed businesses, it hopes to attract some of the business same-sex weddings will provide.

Mayor Paul Dyster had the falls lit up in rainbow hues as he officiated at the city's first same-sex wedding, timed to wrap up at one second past midnight Sunday morning. He gave brides Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd a picture of the illuminated falls as a gift.

Empire State Development Corp., the state business creation agency, estimates the legalization of gay marriage will generate about $400 million in economic benefits statewide over three years. The city hopes to be among the biggest benefactors of the law and all the hotel rooms, flowers, dinners out, breakfasts in, and cakes that go with it.

"We took the honeymoon designation for granted," said Nicholas Mattera, spokesman for the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., which has begun redirecting funds and pouring time and manpower into recapturing happy couples of every persuasion. He and other civic leaders acknowledge they've let the blush fade from the Honeymoon Capital reputation over the last three or four decades.

Michael Shullick, 31, and Michael McAran, 43, closed up shop at their Sandusky, Ohio, bar at 2:30 a.m. Sunday and drove five hours to Niagara Falls, where they picked up a marriage license for their Monday wedding. They brought along their bar's manager and her girlfriend, who will also wed.

"What more could you ask for, getting married by the falls?" said Shullick, who said he visited the city a decade or so ago and has wanted to return. Monday's ceremony fell on the couple's three-year anniversary.

New York's adoption of legal same-sex marriage is viewed as a pivotal moment in the national gay rights movement and was expected to galvanize supporters and opponents alike. The state joined Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, along with Washington, D.C., when it voted to legalize gay marriage.

Opponents in New York say they will seek to block the marriages.

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