New York City's 'unprecedented' gay-marriage lottery

Mayor Bloomberg unveils a plan to avoid chaos on the first day same-sex marriage is legal — and angers some couples in the process

New York City's 'unprecedented' gay marriage lottery
(Image credit: Greg Hinsdale/CORBIS)

This Sunday, July 24, New York state's same-sex marriage law takes effect. Not surprisingly, New York City is being inundated with requests from gay couples who want to be married on the historic day. To quell fears that demand would overwhelm the city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that a lottery system, which some are calling "unprecedented," will be used to select 764 lucky couples. How do the odds look for would-be newlyweds? Here, a brief guide:

Do they really need a lottery?

City resources are finite, and New York City can only deal with so many marriage licenses in a single day. There are 764 available marriage slots across the five New York City boroughs for Sunday, July 24, including slots available for heterosexual couples. As of Wednesday morning, the city had received 2,661 applications — an estimated 1,728 of which were from same-sex couples. To prevent couples from having to wait hours in long lines "only to be turned away at the last seconds," says Josh Voorhees at The Slatest, the city turned to a lottery system as the fairest way to handle the influx. "We want to make sure that Sunday is not like a trip to [the department] of motor vehicles," says City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

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How does the lottery work?

Hopeful couples must register online. Each borough is holding a separate lottery, and couples can only enter one. The lottery will close Thursday at noon, with winners notified on Friday. They'll receive a "three-in-one package" that includes a marriage license, a waiting-period waiver, and, of course, a ceremony performed by an official at a city office. (Couples can also choose to hold their ceremonies elsewhere.)

Is this unprecedented?

Yes. Performing 764 marriages in one day will break New York City's previous single-day record of 621 on Valentine's Day in 2003. In 2004, when Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, long lines of couples hoping to attain marriage licenses snaked around Boston's City Hall. The city hall in nearby Cambridge opened at midnight to similar crowds, according to CNN. Bloomberg hopes New York's lottery will help avoid such mob scenes. "It's not [like] buying an iPad 2," he said.

Is everyone okay with this?

Nope. "It took long enough to get gay marriage," says Marianne Nicolosi, director of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, as quoted by The New York Times. "Now you have to be lucky enough to be one of the privileged few who can actually get married on that day?" LGBT advocacy groups are voicing similar opinions, saying it's not surprising that so many people would want to get married on the historic day. Some couples, however, appreciate the city's effort to avoid chaos. "It's the fairest, best way to ration out those slots," says Alan Miles, who has been engaged to his boyfriend for seven years.

Are there other options?

Yes. Leave the city, says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. "Any of these folks could just as easily head out of town" to a smaller, less crowded upstate city. Though an out-of-town ceremony may lack the "flair" of a Manhattan wedding, New York City wedding planners are reportedly scarce anyway, and the prospect of finding a reception hall is "pretty much a lost cause at this point."

Sources: CNN, Hot Air, International Business Times, Metro, NY Times, Slatest

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