Gay Latinos Make Marriage History in New York

On a late July morning, hundreds of couples, Latinos among them, stood on a long line outside the New York City Clerk's office to do what loved ones before them had been doing for generations – to exchange wedding vows with the person they love.

It was different for these soon-to-be newlyweds, of course. Sunday was the first day that gay couples were allowed to tie the knot in New York.

Marcos Chljub, 29, and Freddy Zambrano, 30, were the first same-sex couple to be officially married in Manhattan.

"It feels amazing," Zambrano said. "To be the first Latino male couple - it's incredible."

Zambrano, an Ecuadorian-American, and Chljub, a Dominican-American, met online five years ago.

"What better day to do it then the most historic day," Zambrano said. "This is a stepping stone to letting Latinos know that we are equal."

New York became the sixth and largest state to allow gay marriages last month, a move viewed by some as a pivotal moment in the national gay rights movement.  Sunday's marriages, however, were apolitical for most of the couples.

Fighting off the heat wave and dressed in sweat-drenched shirts, tailored black tuxedos, dresses and costumes, the couples – who would be showered with bubbles, rainbow flowers, cheers from loving friends and relatives – instead focused on the most important day of their lives.

Nelson and Juan Rodríguez, who met in a disco in 1975, have waited to say "I do" for more than 30 years. They purposely refused to get married until New York passed their own gay marriage equality law.

"We love New York. We had to do it here. There was no question about it," Nelson, who like Juan is Puerto Rican, said. "After 36 years we are so complete in our relationship, but we wanted to formally take part in this historic milestone.

"Our faith in the state has worked out," he said.

It was the weight of the historical moment in New York that drew Nirvana and Ruth Galvez to pack their bags from San Diego, California, and head for the Big Apple just in time for their 10th year anniversary.

"This law makes our dreams come true. Marriage allows us to be recognized as family in the U.S.," Nirvana, the 35-year-old Mexican-American, said.

Yet for others, like Daniel Hernández, 53, and Nevin Cohen, 48, the legality of the gay-marriage victory hit closer to home than for most.

In 2004, the couple sued the state of New York to demand they be wed. They lost the lawsuit in an appeals court in 2006, but the ruling is widely credited with raising public awareness to the plight of gay couples who were denied the right to marry.

"It makes me proud to be a New Yorker," Hernández said to Fox News Latino. "It's incredible. Love just transcends hate."

Tears welling in his eyes, Hernández spoke of the tremendous support his 12-year relationship with Nevin has received from his traditional Latino household. A third-generation Mexican-American and former Catholic altar boy, Hernández believes families can learn from his parents' message.

"I think for any Latino community where family is so important, they are role models for creating a loving environment for their kids," Hernández said of his parents. "They are an incredible example of saying, 'I love my son. I love what he's done. I love what he does, and I'm going to support him.' "

The couple will be holding a ceremony in the fall specifically so that Hernández's family can make the trip from California.

Latino Opponent to Gay Marriage Leads Protest 

The watershed moment wasn't celebrated by everyone.

Promising "war," State Senator Rubén Díaz (D-Bronx), whose openly gay granddaughter has made his own family's division on the gay marriage issue a public show, held an opposition rally away from City Clerk offices.

His demonstration started with several hundred people crowding the street across from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Manhattan office, but quickly swelled to thousands of people as they marched to the United Nations. They waved signs saying "Excommunicate Cuomo" and "God cannot be mocked."

Díaz, a minister who was the sole Democrat to vote against gay marriage when the Legislature approved it, told the crowd near the United Nations that he and other opponents would try to get Sunday's marriages annulled, saying judges broke the law by waiving the 24-hour waiting period without good reason.

"We're going to show them next week that everything they did today was illegal," he said, speaking in Spanish. "Today we start the battle! Today we start the war!"

The contrasts between views of gay marriage transcend cultural barriers and city lines – even in Sen. Diaz's home Borough of The Bronx.

Bronx residents Yashica Martínez and Kathy Almodovar were married after being together for 10 years. The women have a 5-year-old son, and reiterated the point that a marriage certificate does not make a family, but they did underscore the importance of understanding the symbolic power Sunday held.

"Its not a privilege, it's an equal opportunity to be able to marry the person you love just like everyone else," Martínez said.

Even Judge George Villegas, who presided over Yashica's and Kathy's wedding, couldn't help but be swept by the symbolic and historical weight of it all.

"I feel humbled and blessed [that] I'm able to participate in [an] action [that] has conferred civil rights on people of the same sex that want to get married and enjoy life and the same rights as the rest of us."

Article contains some reporting from the Associated Press.

Bryan Llenas is a reporter for Fox News Latino and can be reached at Adry Torres is a freelance reporter and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, too: @adrytorresnyc

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