07.25.11

Wedding Bells at N.Y. City Hall

In 2003 Andrew Berg and Dominic Pisciotta appeared on the cover of Newsweek under the headline “Is Gay Marriage Next?” A dispatch from their New York wedding. By Jessica Bennett.

The first time around, there was a hot-air balloon, a lake, and a waterfall. There was a DJ shipped in from New York, and 150 guests decked out in their finest. It was Vermont, in the summertime—a year after the state legalized civil unions. “Everything,” said the happy grooms, “was perfect.”

Things went a bit differently this time. There was no babbling brook in the background—just the sound of New York traffic. There weren’t hors d’œuvres or fancy Champagne, but beer and sliders at an afterparty at a local bar.

Andrew Berg’s partner, Dominic Pisciotta, had taken off for work early, leaving Andy with the couple’s 8-year-old twins, Spencer and Olivia. On the agenda for the day: wedding outfits, vow writing, coordinating family, and friends. All of which needed to happen while Andy waited by the phone: Dom, a technologist with the city, would call when it was time. It was Andy’s job to round up the troops and get to City Hall—fast. “It’s a little different than the fairytale weddings that people plan for,” Andy says with a laugh.

The call came at 4 p.m., two hours earlier than expected. Family and friends piled into yellow cabs and left from the couple’s Lower East Side home. There was no procession, no cummerbund or corsage. Just a simple room, with a bevy of municipal workers looking on.

“What are we doing about names?” Dominic asks, sitting in a cubicle filling out paperwork.

Suddenly, a chorus. “Keep it!” Olivia cheers. “Change it!” Spencer shouts. “Keep it!” “Change it!” This goes on for about 30 seconds, the kids tussling in a chair in matching purple and gray.

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Andrew Berg (left) and Dominic Pisciotta after their marriage with their 8-year-old twins, Spencer and Olivia. ()

Dominic decides to do both: He will be Pisciotta-Berg. Andy will stay Berg, but may add Pisciotta later. The kids are already Berg-Pisciotta. Simple, right?

A woman calls over the couple’s witness, and Andy suddenly realizes he’s forgotten a printout of his vows. “I left them on the bed,” he says, pulling out his iPhone. “It’s OK, I’ll read it from here,” he adds calmly. “I’m going with the flow today.”

The ceremony begins. Andy’s vows have shown up (they were in his pocket all along). Friends and family huddle around. The twins stand with their parents.

“Ten years ago in Vermont, in front of 150 of our friends and family, I promised to do cartwheels when you needed to laugh,” Dominic, 39, says. “A decade later, I can rely on our kids to do that—and now vow to do what I can to remain physically intact.”

There are laughs.

“I vowed to be less impulsive about my decisions to remodel our home,” Andy, 41, says. “Now that we’ve spent thousands of dollars and changed every square inch of our apartment, all I ask is that we get new blinds for the balcony.”

The crowd erupts.

“Who has the rings?” one of the men asks—their kids brimming with excitement. “We picked them out ourselves!” they beam. The rings are plastic and rainbow.

Sunday, of course, marked the first day that lesbian and gay couples could marry in New York state—the sixth and largest state to legalize gay marriage.

In some towns, the festivities started Saturday at midnight: mayors in Albany and Niagara Falls officiated at ceremonies; in Niagara, the falls were a backlit rainbow.

Connie Kopelov, 85, and her partner of more than two decades, 77-year-old Phyllis Siegel, became the first couple to wed in Manhattan—Siegel pushing her wife’s wheelchair out the doors of City Hall just after 9 a.m., causing the crowd to erupt into cheers.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiated in a ceremony for two men on his staff, at Gracie Mansion. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn—who is planning her own wedding to her longtime partner—called the marriages a victory for human rights.

In all, a record-breaking 659 couples were married in the five boroughs of New York City. Pisciotta and Berg were the last to wed at the city clerk’s office. “It’s nice to be able to celebrate this other phase of our lives,” Pisciotta says.

‘I was waiting for this for half my life.’—8-year-old Spencer Berg-Pisciotta

But more than that, the ceremony was symbolic. Pisciotta works as the assistant commissioner for technology for the city of New York—which means he’s spent the last month working overtime to make sure this week runs smoothly. It was his job to update the online marriage application to remove gender-specific words like “man” and “wife”—and to oversee the technology behind the lottery process that would determine who marries when.

This would be the couple’s third ceremony. The first, in 2001, was a civil union. The second, in 2002, was a city domestic partnership. In 2003 the couple was recruited to appear on the cover of Newsweek, in a story about the Supreme Court and gay rights—under the headline “Is Gay Marriage Next?

At the time, they weren’t entirely convincedat least not in New York.
“We had our civil-union ceremony, what we considered the big day,” says Berg. “We have twins, we own an apartment, we just paid off our station wagon, we set up powers of attorney. We kind of moved on with our lives.”

But when marriage became a reality in their home state—on the eve of Gay Pride weekend—there was no time to waste. “Since we already did a big wedding, I wanted to do a cocktail party in the fall,” says Berg. “But the kids were like, ‘Are we getting married tomorrow?’”

Tomorrow became exactly one month later—the first possible day that gay New Yorkers could wed. “I was waiting for this for half my life,” says 8-year-old Spencer. “Now it’s happened.”