New York gay couple can finally marry after 60 years

 

After waiting for more than six decades, the groom can be forgiven a touch of last-minute nerves as he prepares to stand at the altar and solemnly utter his vows.

And so can the other groom. Richard Dorr and John Mace are today preparing to join the first wave of gay New Yorkers to take advantage of the right to tie the knot, after the state's law-makers narrowly voted to legalise same-sex marriage.

The couple, who met in the 1950s, and fell in love over a shared passion for music, spent the weekend singing duets at the piano in their apartment for the benefit of a steady trickle of reporters and television crews who came to hear their remarkable story. "I come from an Italian family, and they're the marrying kind," said Mr Mace. "So why not? Why not complete this relationship, after so many years?"

When Mr Dorr, who is 84, and Mr Mace, who is 91, first clapped eyes on each other at the nearby Juilliard School of Music, homosexuality was illegal in every US state. After struggling to ignore their mutual attraction, they embarked upon an illicit relationship which for years had to be kept secret from all but their closest friends.

At the time their love blossomed, public homophobia meant that "marriage never crossed our mind", Mr Dorr said. But he nonetheless knew that he had found his soulmate. "It was just that we had to be together," he added. "We could not stay away." The couple bore witness to New York's Stonewall riots and the subsequent birth of the gay-rights movement. They cheered in 2003, when the US Supreme Court finally struck down the last remaining anti-sodomy law, which had applied to the State of Texas.

And last Friday, 61 years after they met, they rejoiced at a vote that saw a narrow majority of state senators remove the last barrier to their enduring happiness by allowing them to formalise their relationship in the same way as their heterosexual peers.

The historic passage of New York's same-sex marriage bill occurred late on Friday night, by a 33-29 margin. Four Republican senators joined all but one Democrat in backing the new law, which will take effect in 30 days' time.

It makes New York the sixth, and by far most populous State to allow gay couples to marry, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia. With 19 million residents, the number of Americans who are entitled to marry a person of their own sex will more than double, overnight.

Public opinion is moving faster on gay marriage than on any other major social issue. A decade ago, roughly 60 per cent of the US population was opposed it. Now multiple polls show a narrow majority in favour. Barack Obama, who has previously said he generally supports gay rights but is opposed to the right to marry, recently revealed that his position was "evolving".

With voters under the age of 35 supporting marriage equality by a majority of more than two to one, and with opposition strongest among the eldest voters, supporters of gay marriage are publicly predicting that same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in every US state within a decade.

The most likely way for that to happen would be for a test case on the issue to reach the US Supreme Court, where a decision will affect every US State, including places such as Mississippi, where roughly 85 per cent of residents remain hostile to gay marriage. One case, involving gay marriage in California, is thought by legal experts to be between two and four years away from such a hearing.

Saying he was looking forward to a quiet ceremony ("nothing fancy; just a couple of witnesses and a justice of the peace") Mr Dorr said he hoped the changing nature of the debate means future couples will have an easier time following their heart.

"The next generation deserves better than we had," he said.

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