Thousands of same-sex couples nationwide are prepared to apply for marriage licenses on Thursday _ an exercise in legal futility.
The attempts are being undertaken to protest court and voter decisions restricting legal matrimony to opposite-sex couples.
Activists geared up for rallies at marriage bureaus or county clerks' offices in communities large and small _ from New York, Arkansas, California and Florida to Kentucky and Nevada.
This week, which encompasses Lincoln's Birthday and Valentine's Day, marks the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week, usually celebrated with marriage-license protests.
Same-sex partners and their non-gay friends, families and allies are demanding that no couple in a consensual, committed relationship be denied permission to marry _ complete with the rights, protections and benefits the government assigns to the legal ritual.
This year's protests are more important than ever, said one New York organizer, because they come in the wake of California's Proposition 8 vote and just as New Yorkers look to their state Senate to pass legislation that could lead to legalized gay marriage.
“I want to have that option,” said 23-year-old J. Heath Tucker, who doesn't want to get married now, but “when I find the person I fall in love with, I want to be able to get married.”
He is a member of Join the Impact, a national community-based group that helped organize hundreds of people seeking licenses at the marriage bureau in lower Manhattan on Thursday.
This year's event “is more important because people had something given to them, then had it stripped away,” Tucker said of California, where more than 18,000 same-sex couples were married last year.
Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states that allow gay marriage. Gay marriages are not allowed elsewhere, and 30 states have taken the extra step of entrenching the ban in their state constitution.
Freedom to Marry events around the country are listed on Web sites, including those run by two major organizations behind the protests _ Join the Impact and the national grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.
Some of the largest gatherings were expected in California. On March 5, the state's Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over whether to overturn Proposition. 8 and restore California same-sex marriages. The court could render a decision as early as June.
The proposition, which changed the state's constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to one man and one woman, was narrowly approved by California voters last November.
In New York, same-sex marriages cannot legally be performed. However, Gov. David Paterson has issued a directive requiring that all state agencies recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
“I hope the Senate will keep gay marriage on its 2009 agenda,” said Tucker.
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith has suggested that he and his fellow Democrats lack the votes needed to pass a same-sex marriage bill this year. However, Smith said several days ago that he and fellow legislators are “committed to pursuing its passage.”