Excelsior! Theatre Community Gives New York's Same-Sex Marriage Law a Standing Ovation
By Kenneth Jones
Playbill.com spread its net wide to gather response to the June 24 passage of same-sex marriage in New York State. Terrence McNally, Jordan Roth, Douglas Carter Beane and more shared their glee.
Marriage equality became the law of the land in New York State late at night on June 24 when the State Senate passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, thrilling thousands of gays and lesbians — including those in the New York City theatre industry. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the bill into law at 11:55 PM on Friday, less than two hours after the Senate passed the measure by a vote of 33-29. Couples interested in marrying will have to wait 30 days for the state to get its act together. Same-sex marriages will commence the week of July 25.
The membership of Actors' Equity Association, the union for actors and stage managers, includes not a few gays and lesbians. AEA's statement read, "Equity applauds Governor Cuomo and the New York State Senate for their courage and wisdom to enact the same-sex marriage bill. Equity has a long history of support for human rights for all individuals, including Marriage Equality for all Americans, and congratulates the New York State leaders for again demonstrating that New York is a beacon for justice and equality. This is an historic vote and it is especially poignant that the bill is signed into law on the eve of Gay Pride Weekend."
Playbill.com reached out to others in the industry — gay and lesbian performers, producers, writers, agents and more — to get their response to the life-changing new law.
Terrence McNally, the Tony Award-winning playwright and librettist, was married to producer Tom Kirdahy in April 2010 in Washington, DC, where same-sex marriage was legal. McNally told Playbill.com that on the night of June 24, "Tom Kirdahy and I held hands and watched the vote on television. The suspense was pretty intense. We had held hands and watched the unsuccessful vote two years ago, and neither of us wanted to go through that experience again: a public repudiation of who we were as a couple and a community. When the results were announced this time, we both let out a yell, held each other for a long time and then got very quiet. The enormity of what had just happened began to sink in. We both felt overwhelmed by the gravity and the enormous joy of the occasion. The dreams of many people had come true. Tom and I never thought we would be so grateful to so many Republicans. We all made history Friday night!
"Federal validation of gay marriage must and will happen next. In the meantime, our community must not forget the brave senators who risked everything for us. When they stand for re-election, we must stand with them. They deserve nothing less."
Kirdahy added, "The first person we called [after the bill passed] was my mother! We know my father and Terrence's parents were watching over us...but it was thrilling to share our joy with my mom, who was watching in her home. Terrence would say he has the best mother-in-law in the world, and I'd agree. We will marry again in New York. We'll let the government decide which one counts. We just love the idea of getting married in our home state. Mazel Tov! It's a profound experience...far more powerful than we ever imagined."
Choreographer Chase Brock (Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark) and music director Rob Berman (Encores!) said in a joint email, "Watching the coverage on television at our home in Ulster County, we were extremely moved and satisfied by the passage of the bill, and were particularly encouraged by the final speeches of the Republican senators who supported the bill. We were married in San Francisco in 2008, one of the 18,000 gay couples married in California prior to the passage of Proposition 8. Since our marriage had already been legally recognized in New York State, we don't currently have plans to marry again in New York. However, this historic expansion of the civil rights of the LGBTQ community is meaningful to us on every level, and we're personally overjoyed for our many friends and colleagues in the Broadway community who will now be able to marry in our home state."
Liz Rosier, a talent agent with the Hartig-Hilepo Agency, whose longtime partner is The Public Theater's director of production Ruth E. Sternberg said, "We've been together for 18 years now, and when we've expressed to friends that we've wanted to marry when it's legal in the state in which we live, they've suggested we go to a state where it's already legal — and do it immediately. The response is: No, it's important to be legally married in the state in which we live. Yes, I feel totally committed to Ruth in a spiritual sense, she is the person I choose to spend the rest of my life with, and I don't need a wedding to prove that. We also share a home, a checking account, cars, bills, animals and household responsibilities. I feel that we are deserving of the legal benefits of marriage — those 1,300-plus rights that come along with it. The right for me to go into an emergency room with Ruth while she is being treated. The spousal right to be the person a doctor comes and speaks to after a procedure without having to explain who I am and what the nature of our relationship is. The right to legal protection should something happen to one of us — and if something were to happen if, say, family tried to come in and take possessions away.
"I personally feel savvy enough to handle all of these situations on my own and have never had trouble with them, but shouldn't I have those rights without worrying if I'm going to have to go to battle in order to hold my partner's hand while she's in the ER being treated? I also believe this is an enormous step societally, and I do believe by New York saying yes, a lot of young people who are afraid of who they are will feel that maybe they do belong. This is a big acknowledgement! A legal marriage may not be for everyone, but we should definitely have the choice, and now we do! I'm elated!"
Sternberg added, "I think that the passage of the same-sex marriage bill harkens back to the Civil Rights Act of the '60s, the big difference being that was a federal law, and gay rights are being left up to individual states. I believe that it will take time for our society to accept us, but to say that the law recognizes us and our right to legal union is a huge step in that direction. New York has made a huge step forward that needs to be celebrated!"
Gavin Creel, the Tony Award-nominated actor, singer and activist who has worked for marriage equality through his organization BroadwayImpact, said in an email, "I'm so proud of New York, its citizens, its lawmakers and most fabulously, its theatre folk. Our industry is making its voice heard, and while this victory is a true moment to celebrate, our country hasn't even begun to hear the noise that our theatre community is going to make to bring the issues surrounding FULL EQUALITY for all LGBT citizens to the attention of everyone...everywhere. BroadwayImpact is dedicated to staying in this fight and we are growing every day because of actors, directors, producers, stage managers, musicians, stage hands, and more, all joining us to stand up for what is right. We'll keep fighting state by state, but our true frontier is FULL FEDERAL EQUALITY, and we need everyone in our business to join in to make that happen. Stay tuned. We have a lot of exciting things coming. Visit www.BroadwayImpact.com."
Tom Beckett, whose partner is Dr. Roy (Trip) Gulick, is a New York City actor whose work includes the recent Treasure Island at Brooklyn's Irondale Center. Beckett said, "We watched the vote on TV, and as soon as the bill definitely passed, we simultaneously proposed to each other. We didn't plan it; just popped out. I still await my diamond engagement ring, though.
"I was worried that when we do finally hitch it would feel anti-climactic after being together for 15 years, but I now think it will simply be a wonderful celebration. Yes, getting married for legal protection is a legitimate reason, but I don't think I'd do it if that was my only reason. It seems so, well, clinical."
Mark H. Dold, a New York City actor currently in Off-Broadway's Freud's Last Session, said, "I was at the end of a show day, and had just arrived home. My post-show routine is to turn on the news when I get home to see what's happened in the world while I've spent the day on stage. I was thrilled, lost for words, but slightly confused by the news and actually began to get quite choked up. When I think of my 15-year relationship, and how proud of it I am, how it's the greatest accomplishment of my life, it boggles my mind to think that anyone would consider it less legitimate than any other. Now, at least legally, in the state of New York, there will be no question. I also believe that emotionally, spiritually and psychically the tide will continue to turn for equality. It must. It's the right thing, and I'm so proud of New York and can't thank those enough who worked tirelessly to make this happen.
"My partner, Edgar, and I have been legally domestic partners since 2008 and there will likely be a wedding in our near future, but as of this moment I'm still not completely sure what it all means. I won't be any more committed to our life together just because we now have the freedom to be 'married.' I couldn't feel or be any more married in my heart than I already am.
"Oddly, while I was watching the news, I received a phone call from a friend telling me that her marriage of almost ten years was over. So, I know 'marriage' or not, the word can never be the glue. But the choice, the choice. To not be excluded, denied, that's awesome. Truly awesome. I'm glad it came in my lifetime, I'm glad it came period! Six states down! Who will be next?"
Paul Hilepo, whose partner is fragrance executive Tom Knotek, is a talent agent at the Hartig-Hilepo Agency. He told us, "I am happy because I am a gay man in a committed and loving nine-year relationship who now has the choice and privilege that I deserve to have. My partner Tom and I may not necessarily run to the church tomorrow, but we can now realistically have the experience when the time is right for us in a fuller way....and that makes me feel great."
Tony Award-nominated playwright and librettist Douglas Carter Beane (Sister Act, The Little Dog Laughed, Lysistrata Jones), whose partner is composer Lewis Flinn (Lysistrata Jones), said, "Lewis and I were having a somewhat passionate conversation about Lysistrata Jones moving [to Broadway] and my inability to put the children to bed on time (yeah, I'm that kind of dad). I got an email from David Hyde Pierce, saying only 'Happy Marriage!' Lewis and I got quiet. He put the TV on, I texted boy playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo (who has been working very hard on manning the phones getting this passed). I texted, 'Is Gay Marriage happening soon?' He texted back, 'Ten minutes, tops.' I responded, 'How long a wait for bottoms?' I'm sorry, I had to. Then Lewis and I sat on the sofa and smiled and sat closer and closer. And it happened, and Lewis looked at me and I didn't feel like such a bad dad to our kids."
Richard Roland, a New York City-based director who directed the current production of The 39 Steps in Raleigh, NC, is married to Raymond Sage, Penn State University associate professor of voice for musical theatre. Roland said, "My partner and I were married in California during that brief window in 2008, and I was cautiously optimistic that New York would soon follow in practicing marriage equality. It took a little longer than expected, but I'm beyond thrilled that my home state now recognizes my partner and me for the first-class citizens we truly are. I anticipate there will be more battles and ugly rhetoric thrown around, and even a possible move to vote the law down, but I will be vocal and fight the good fight, which for me means showing opponents of marriage equality that their lives and livelihoods will not be adversely affected by two members of the same gender enjoying the same legal marriage benefits as they. I am so looking forward to my friends who have been waiting for this opportunity to get married. I was so moved on Friday night when the measure was passed just from the act itself — but even more so from the online proposals I was witnessing on Facebook! My partner and I were at our house in Pennsylvania this weekend and toasted with friends, two gay couples, to the act of love that New York has put forth."
Harvey Fierstein, the Tony Award-winning actor-playwright-librettist whose work has explored the gay experience (Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles), said, "I had the live Senate feed on my computer while I worked through the evening. When the vote finally came up, I put [MSNBC cable commentator] Rachel Maddow on TV. I thought it would be like watching the vote with an eye on the next generation of activists. As soon as they voted affirmative on that hateful amendment legalizing religious bigotry against us, I knew we had the votes to pass marriage, so I was already in a happy frame of mind. But I watched the actual vote in Rachel Maddow's face. She kept her cool. She's a pro. But I could see the tears well up in her eyes. I saw her lips quiver ever so slightly. I heard the pitch of her voice heighten. And I experienced victory."
Jordan Roth, whose partner is producer Richie Jackson, is president of Jujamcyn Theaters. Roth said in an email, "May the arc bend now. May we wake tomorrow to a new day. [That's] a prayer of sorts that I posted late Thursday night, as the hours ticked down towards the Senate's final day in session. Now or never. We had never been this close, and I feared if the vote didn't come to the floor before the Senate's recess, we might never be again. Now. Now.
"Friday. Rumors and hopes started building through the evening, finding me and Richie on our bed monitoring laptops, iPads, phones and television for every word, every possibility. As the ironic melodies of the Senate's hold music played from our computers waiting to bring us the live feed from the Senate floor, we read an ever-accelerating stream of tweets and posts from journalists, activists and organizations on the ground and friends, family and encouragers from around the world.
"I hadn't fully understood this new-found power we share from Twitter and Facebook until just then. We were community. Feeding each other with information and insight and hope. Connected virtually but more a reality than ever before.
"The Senate resumed. The speeches. The heroes. A vote of conscience. 32!! A man can be wiser today than he was yesterday. 33!! YES!! YES!! YES!!
"And just like that, everything changed.
"Richie and I held each other's hands. Cried. Laughed. Kissed. We were different. The world was different. Now.
"We felt a pull toward Sheridan Square. To Stonewall, where we had seen the crowds gathering thanks once again to our community of technology. We ran into neighbors in the elevator and hugged, all knowing we were going to the same place. We all felt the pull. As did hundreds of others. So many old friends, but really we were all friends there. Hugging and saying 'Congratulations!' As if we were all getting married right then. And in a way, we were.
"Richie proposed to me six years ago, but somehow it didn't make sense to me to say we were engaged. Until now."
(Playbill magazine editor Blake Ross and Playbill.com staff writer Adam Hetrick contributed to this piece. Follow Playbill.com managing editor Kenneth Jones on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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