Gay rites celebrate rights

As Pete Schroeter stood next to his 34-year partner, Ed Delph, on Sunday, he looked tall and proud.
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As Pete Schroeter stood next to his 34-year partner, Ed Delph, on Sunday, he looked tall and proud. But as soon as ordained minister Jim Larson spoke, his eyes began to water.

“By the power vested in me by the state of New York — 30 days ago — I now pronounce you husband and husband,” Larson said, to a room that erupted into cheers and applause as Schroeter and Delph shared their first kiss as a married couple.

The longtime members of Albany’s LGBT community were the first to receive their marriage license in Albany and wed on the same day that same-sex marriage became legal in the state. The ceremony was the highlight Sunday at Rocks, a popular Albany gay club on Central Avenue, that hosted a “Heroes: A Celebration of Marriage Equality in New York”.

State Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, and Rocks bartender Dave Fenton served as witnesses to make the marriage of Schroeter and Delph official. Just before the men exchanged their “I dos,” Breslin delivered to the ecstatic and smiling crowd the two-minute speech he would have given on the Senate floor when the bill passed if there had been more than four senators allowed to speak.

“I can remember in the past, people asking me why I wanted to be an elected official, and I said I think I can really make a difference in people’s lives. But I used to question that,” Breslin said. “And on June 24, we all made a difference and we made people’s lives better. And there was no expense to it, because this was not an issue of morality or religion. It was an issue of civil rights.”

The issue was one many cared about at Sunday’s event. Gays, lesbians and supporters filtered through the club, chatting, dancing and reveling in the day’s symbolism.

Brenda Rusch and Chris Crouch, of East Greenbush, watched the revelers from a quiet seat in the back of the club, taking in the scene and reflecting on their own journey.

“We’re just here for the celebration,” Rusch said. “We actually don’t know Pete or Ed, but we think it’s historic nonetheless and it’s time for same-sex couples to have the same recognition as heterosexual couples.”

Greeting practically everyone in attendance was 48-year-old Paul Cattabiani — in Statue of Liberty drag. He arrived to the ceremony in the symbolic attire with his partner of three years, Dannye Maccue.

“I’ve never met them before, but this is one of those things you just want to see,” Cattabiani said. “I’m a 300-pound man in green eyelashes in this heat for goodness sakes.”

Richard Springer, who has known the couple for three years, said he didn’t think the day would ever come that he would see them wed.

“Not in New York, not in my lifetime,” said Springer, 54, who is originally from Austin, Texas. “I knew that younger generations would see it eventually, but as conservative as our country is getting, I’m excited that New York voted for equality.”

Schroeter and Delph first met in July 1977 on a beach in Cherry Grove, Fire Island. They moved in together six months later, and spent the next several decades in New York City, Columbia County and, eventually, Albany, where they retired.

For years they refused to marry in a more progressive state, waiting patiently with the hope that New York would one day legalize same-sex marriage.

“It’s very rare that legislators get the chance to do happy things,” Breslin said after the ceremony. “And to see the happiness on their faces that they have this new civil right is amazing.”

Breslin was one of 33 state senators who voted to pass the Marriage Equality Act on the night of June 24. In the Capital Region, Democrats Robert Reilly, of Colonie; Ron Canestrari, of Cohoes; and Jack McEneny, of Albany, voted in favor of the bill. Several of those in attendance at Sunday’s ceremony, including longtime LGBT activist Libby Post, sat inside the Senate gallery that night.

Post has campaigned for LGBT rights in the Capital Region for many years. And Sunday’s marriage ceremony made the tireless journey worth it, she said.

“This is a culmination of years and years and years of work by so many people in our community to make marriage legal,” Post said. “This marriage bill gives us the opportunity to celebrate our relationships, and there’s so much difference between defending ourselves and celebrating ourselves. And that’s what this night is all about.”

Couples began saying “I do” at midnight from Niagara Falls to Long Island. In New York City on Sunday couples waited on a sweltering day for the chance to exchange vows at the city clerk’s office.

The first couple to marry in Manhattan were Phyllis Siegel, 77, and Connie Kopelov, 85, who have been together for 23 years. In Niagara Falls, gay rights activists Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd were legally married the very first moment they could be during a midnight ceremony.

In Albany, Mayor Jerry Jennings performed marriages at 12:01 a.m. Sunday in the Common Council’s chambers.

Categories: Schenectady County

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