Citing High Demand, NYC to Hold Lottery for 1st Day of Gay Marriage

Wednesday, Jul 20, 2011  |  Updated 6:35 AM EDT
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NYC Lottery for 1st Day of Gay Nups

AP

Carmela Kenney arranges a bridal veil for a same-sex pair of mannequins in the window of Sposabella Couture in Brooklyn. The city is preparing for a crush of gay weddings on Sunday, when the law goes into effect.

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New York City officials are expecting so many couples to want to marry on Sunday, the first day same-sex marriage will be legal in the state, that they have set up a lottery and capped the number at 764.

That would be the largest number of couples ever processed on one day in the city clerk's offices; the previous record was set on Valentine's Day 2003, when 621 couples were married, followed by Aug. 8, 2008, when 610 were wed.

Mayor Bloomberg said Tuesday that couples can register for the lottery online or by calling 311 in the 48 hours beginning noon Tuesday.

Winners will be notified by Friday at noon.

The steps are being taken to keep the day special and to avoid situations in which people wait for hours, only to be turned away, officials said. In addition to marriage licenses, the city will also be providing judges to waive the 24-hour waiting period required by law.

"We want to make sure that Sunday is not like a trip to motor vehicles," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Couples will not be given a specific time to arrive and should expect for the process to take about an hour. Couples who wish to get married somewhere else can enter the lottery and receive the license and judge waiver on Sunday, then leave for their ceremony.

For couples who do not land a spot through the lottery, the city clerk's office will continue expanded operations next week, bringing in extra judges and staff and staying open two extra hours each day, to handle the anticipated demand.

Starting Monday, those weddings will be performed first-come, first-served, but Bloomberg said he doesn't expect people to be camping out overnight to get married.

"It's not buying an iPad 2," he said.

"It's way better," added Quinn.

Officials said 2,661 couples have already preregistered for marriage licenses online, and they believe about half of them wish to be married on Sunday. In all, officials expect about 2,500 couples to enter the lottery.

Officials expect the majority of couples who enter the lottery to be local residents, although couples who live out of state can also apply.

On Sunday, judges will perform three steps all at once: granting a marriage license, granting (on a case by case basis) a waiver of the waiting period, and performing a ceremony.

Generally, Quinn said, judges refuse to grant waivers only in cases where an individual appears to be under duress or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Each couple must register under the names that will appear on the marriage licenses. The step is being taken to prevent people from giving away or selling their spots.

Each borough will hold a separate lottery, and couples can enter only one.

The one exception to the lottery system is the wedding that the mayor himself is officiating at Gracie Mansion — that of two city officials.

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