Family members of the North Country's two Assembly members tied the knot in same-sex marriage ceremonies this past weekend, joining the hundreds of couples who've wed in the month since gay marriage became legal in New York state.
Glenn Sayward, the son of Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, and his longtime partner Ben were married Saturday evening in a ceremony at their home in Willsboro, overlooking the Boquet River.
The guest list for the wedding included Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, who then attended a same-sex marriage ceremony on Sunday for her niece and her partner.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward
(Enterprise file photo)
Both politicians told the Enterprise that seeing their gay family members legally married in New York was the culmination of a long personal and political struggle. Both Sayward and Duprey have gone against the majority of their Republican party and have been outspoken in their support of same-sex marriage.
Sayward described her son's wedding as a small, private "recommitment" ceremony, as the two had a much larger commitment ceremony seven years ago.
"They wanted to make it legal," Sayward said. "In fact, that's what the invitations that he sent out said. It didn't say, 'You're invited to a wedding.' It simply said, 'Making it legal.'"
As a wedding gift, Sayward said she gave Glenn and Ben a framed certificate of the law that legalized same-sex marriage in New York, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"It was a very emotional day for me," she said. "I had watched all my other children get married. To be able to see that he was also able to do that here in the state of New York, and be able to get the same benefits as my other children, was really significant for me and my whole family."
When the issue of gay marriage came to the floor of the Assembly several years ago, Sayward said she struggled with it initially. She was afraid of alienating her constituents, many of whom are opposed to same-sex marriage.
"But it didn't take long for me to realize that I was really sent to Albany to do the right thing," Sayward said. "This was the right thing to do. It was an equal rights issue."
Sayward said her son's wedding was the second same-sex marriage to take place in the town of Willsboro since the law took effect. It was the first such ceremony Sayward has attended, and she's been invited to three more: one later this year and two next year.
"It was a proud moment," Duprey said of attending Glenn and Ben's wedding. "It was nice for us to be a part of history and see the culmination of the votes we've taken. I was delighted to be invited."
The next day, Duprey's niece married her partner in a ceremony in Peru. The ceremony simply "made it legal," Duprey said, noting the couple has been together for more than 14 years and had a larger commitment ceremony last year.
Duprey had opposed gay marriage in 2006 when she first ran for Assembly. But in April 2009 she announced that she had changed her mind and would vote for the same-sex marriage bill that was introduced in the Assembly that year.
"I truly came to the realization that it's a civil rights issue, and all people should be truly treated equally under the law," Duprey said. "The absolute turning point for me was the parents who said to me they wanted all their children to be treated the same."
Duprey's position on the issue has generated what she described as "very nasty emails and letters" from some of her constituents. But the bulk of the feedback she's received since this year's vote to make same-sex marriage legal - about 85 to 90 percent - has been positive, Duprey said.
"The best part of this has been the number of people who've said that for the first time they feel they can be open about their sexual preferences and their relationships, because they no longer feel like second-class citizens," she said.
A federal issue
While Sayward and Duprey are pleased that same-sex marriage has become legal in New York, they both say the battle won't be won until Congress does the same.
"It is definitely a federal issue," Sayward said. "Even though Glenn and Ben have all the civil rights of the state of New York, they still don't when they file their federal income tax. Until we get that done, it's not done."
"They still don't have all the legal rights of the federal government," Duprey said of her niece and her partner. "Hopefully that will happen."