New York Today: Gay Marriage Crosses the River

Rich Kiamco, left, and David Gibson were the first gay couple married in Jersey City this morning.
Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal, via Associated Press
Updated 1:10 p.m. | On the day that gay marriages were first performed in New York in 2011, supporters in New Jersey gathered on a pier in Hoboken.
They gazed across the Hudson toward New York.
“We said, ‘Why can’t we have that here?’ ” Hayley Gorenberg, deputy director of Lambda Legal, a gay-rights group, recalled on Sunday.
Just after midnight today, the first same-sex couples were wed in New Jersey.
It was a victory for the movement that was spurred in part by the earlier success in New York.
New Jersey had same-sex civil unions since 2007, but Ms. Gorenberg and others convinced the courts that this arrangement did not give couples full equal rights.
With the addition of New Jersey, the entire Eastern Seaboard from Maryland to Maine now allows gay marriage.
New Jersey’s law was solidified this morning when Gov. Chris Christie said his administration would abandon further legal challenges to it.
Ms. Gorenberg noted that with so many people crossing state borders, legal same-sex marriage in New York and not in New Jersey created confusion and inconsistent treatment.
Now, she said, “People who live in the tristate area and function in the tristate area – they’re going to be able to harmonize it all.”
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A love and a marriage like any other
Local gay couple ready to say ‘I do’ at City Hall
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Oct 13, 2013 | 6368 views | 0 comments-icon | 131 thumbs-up-icon | email-this | print_icon

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Rich Kiamco and David Gibson have in the past exchanged vows before their family and friends, expressing their love for and commitment to each other. In fact, they’ve done it three times.

But when the couple recites their vows next week at City Hall in their adopted home state of New Jersey, Kiamco said it will be the most “profound” of all the ceremonies.

The bare-bones municipal ceremony before Mayor Steven Fulop will have few trappings of a traditional wedding, and will have fewer bells and whistles than the couple’s first trip to the altar. Still, Kiamco said, “In some ways it will be more meaningful because it’s not like we have to go somewhere else to do something so simple, so basic, something that [straight] couples have always been able to do and take for granted every day.”

As he spoke, Kiamco, a quick-witted stand-up comedian, briefly got choked up as he considered the historic weight of this moment in time for gays and lesbians who have for years been fighting for equal marriage rights.

It wasn’t until the pair moved to Jersey City in 2007 and bought a house together on the West Side that the m-word was raised.

When Kiamco and Gibson promise to honor and cherish shortly after the stroke of midnight on Oct. 21, the pair will become the first Jersey City couple to legally marry in the city since a New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled last month that preventing gays and lesbians from marrying denied them federal and state Constitutional rights.

“This will be a historic event for our city,” said Gibson.

‘One date at a time’

Kiamco and Gibson met in 2003 in the way all the hip kids do these days: online.

“It seems a little tacky, I know,” said Kiamco. “There I was, on a hook-up site for gay men, using my dad’s NetZero account.”

On the surface, it seemed as if the two were in different phases in their love lives: Kiamco was actively meeting and dating men, looking for a steady boyfriend. Gibson had just ended a 27-year relationship, generally a time when most people are gun-shy about getting into another one. Surprisingly, the men turned out to be on the same plane after all.

“I think I was looking for a certain level of intimacy that I had lost in my last relationship,” Gibson said of that period in his life. “I was really searching for something, a connection, I guess, that I hadn’t felt in a while.”

The relationship grew slowly at first, neither man pushing the other into a commitment prematurely, they said.

“You know, I just took it one date at a time,” said Kiamco, a native of Chicago.

Living in New York City at the time, the two eventually fell in love and became a couple, a bond that was fostered, in part, by a mutual passion for gardening.

“David has this farmhouse in upstate New York and it really hadn’t been loved in a long time,” said Kiamco. “There was all this land, but nothing was being done with it.”

Where Gibson’s previous partner saw the farmhouse as a burden, Kiamco saw the possibilities. Working together they created a fertile flower and vegetable garden that they still work year round to feed themselves and, occasionally, their neighbors.

“The garden really is a metaphor of who we are,” said Gibson, a Canadian national and professional graphics designer.

The once-barren land surrounding the farmhouse has since won awards for its beauty and abundance.

As their relationship developed, Kiamco kept his own place, but the two were all but living with each other in Gibson’s rented brownstone apartment.

It wasn’t until the pair moved to Jersey City in 2007 and bought a house together on the West Side that the m-word was raised.

Mortgage and marriage

“When we were getting ready to sign the mortgage, it was such a symbol of commitment that all these other issues were getting raised,” Kiamco recalled. “We kept having the same argument over and over. But it wasn’t really about what we were arguing about, it was about this heavy financial commitment we were making to each other. I remember saying, ‘I need to know you’re going to be here.’ ”

Understanding what was really at the root of the anxiety, Gibson proposed.

At the time, the state of New York had recently granted gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. Many Garden State gays bridged and tunneled their way into New York for what Gibson calls “refugee” weddings across the Hudson River.

Gibson and Kiamco held a ceremony in Lower Manhattan, in view of the Jersey City waterfront as a symbol of what was and was not possible for gay couples. (The couple later exchanged vows in Jersey City at the Landmark Loew’s and again in Illinois in front of some of Kiamco’s childhood friends who were unable to be here for the East Coast ceremony.)

But the pomp and circumstance, they said, was a bit hollow, because back home in New Jersey gay marriage still was not legally recognized.

“We were still ‘less than’ in New Jersey. We were still being told we were ‘separate but equal,’” said Kiamco.

Love and marriage: ‘Corny, but powerful’

In 2006 the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that gays and lesbians were entitled to all the rights and benefits of marriage. The ruling, however, did not specifically declare that same-sex couples had a right to marry and the court left it to the state legislature to figure out how best to give these couples equal rights.

Legislators in Trenton chose to allow civil unions.

But Kiamco said that civil unions actually do not give gay couples the same legal rights as their straight counterparts.

“You still can’t get health insurance or if your [partner] dies, you don’t automatically inherit,” he said. “The [deceased partner’s] family can come in and take everything and you’re left with nothing.”

Gibson said they have an American friend whose foreign-born partner was deported after his visa expired. “Since gays haven’t been able to marry, they can’t get the special visas that heterosexual couples would get under the same circumstance.”

Seeing civil unions as significantly different than marriage, Garden State Equality and six gay and lesbian couples sued the state, arguing that their Constitutional rights were being violated.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson agreed, and ruled that gay couples had a right to marry. Her decision on Sept. 27 was the first in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.

In her ruling, Jacobson said same sex marriages had to begin in New Jersey on Monday, Oct. 21, the very date on which Gibson and Kiamco plan to wed at City Hall.

Last week, Jacobson also denied a petition filed by Gov. Christopher Christie requesting that ceremonies be blocked until after the New Jersey Supreme Court specifically rules on gay marriage. The governor is likely to appeal Jacobson’s September ruling.

Gibson and Kiamco know they are playing a game of beat the clock.

“New Jersey could become like California, where gay marriage was legal for a while before it was blocked [at the polls] by Prop 8,” said Kiamco. “But before Prop 8 was passed, there were about 200 gay couples who were legally married in California.”

Knowing that such a situation could become a legal quagmire for opponents of gay marriage, Kiamco and Gibson want to be among those couples married on Oct. 21 so that it might become harder for their marriage to be nullified later.

But the pair believes they are on the right side of civil rights history.

“When we had our wedding in New York, we wore tuxedos and in the place where we went to be fitted there was this older black gentleman and he told us he remembered the day when anti-miscegenation laws were overturned,” Gibson said. “He said he remembers there being a line down the street and around the corner [of the tailor shop] with all these interracial couples who were getting married.”

State laws that barred mixed couples from marrying were struck down by the landmark Loving v. the State of Virginia case, which was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

“Marriage is a little corny. But there’s actually something quite powerful about standing before your family and friends and making this public declaration and commitment to someone you really love,” said Gibson.

More than a dozen states and Washington, D.C. currently allow same-sex marriage, according to Garden State Equality

E-mail E. Assata Wright at

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David Gibson, right, and Rich Kiamco of Jersey City make history as they become the first official same-sex couple to be married in Jersey City in a ceremony officiated by Mayor Steve Fulop at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, at City Hall.
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JERSEY CITY, New Jersey - Filipino-American stand-up comic Rich Kiamco and his partner David Gibson have been together for 10 years and are finally going to be recognized as a married couple when they tie the knot on October 21 in New Jersey.
They have proclaimed their vows to each other in the past but in ceremonies that did not recognize same-sex union.
Kiamco said, "We had a big wedding in New Jersey after we had our legal one, we took a ferry in New York City and then we came back, a big ceremony at Jersey City at the Loew’s Theater with all of our friends and family but that was really a fake."
"It was kind of a facsimile of a wedding because in reality gay marriage isn't legal in New Jersey because our Governor in New Jersey has vetoed the courageous move on the part of the legislature," said Gibson.
Last year, Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage in the state of New Jersey. But a judge ruled in September that same-sex couples can marry legally in New Jersey beginning October 21.
As wedding bells start ringing for gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey, some religious kababayans here are appalled.
“Ay hindi pwede kasi wala yan sa Bible na mag-asawa ka ng lalaki sa lalaki, ang babae magasawa ng babae, hinde! It’s against the law of God. I'm a Baptist and I live in this country for 46 years, I cannot tolerate people for having same sex marriage," said Eleanor Escobar.
"By that time, I’m not here anymore. I'm in the Philippines, aalis na ako."
Even with opposition from his own community, Ronald Capila said he cannot wait to get married to his partner of six years and avail of about 1,300 rights and benefits that were only previously afforded to straight married couples.
"I'm a working class citizen and I pay taxes. I feel like I should be able to get married if I want to, and get the same benefits if and when I need it," Capila said.
For equal marriage rights advocates here, the fight to completely legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey is not quite over. The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Gov. Christie’s administration.
But for now, there’s no stopping Kiamco and Gibson’s "real wedding."
They are expected to be the first gay couple to declare their legal vows at the chambers of Jersey City Hall at the stroke of midnight on October 21, with no less than Mayor Steve Fulop officiating the wedding himself.
Gibson said, "It's a statement, an assertion of the civil rights that we gays and lesbians have."