t 8:30 am, on the morning that gay marriage officially became legal in New York State, the area around the Bronx courthouse where some 50 gay couples were expected to become among the state’s first to join hands in marriage was exceedingly quiet. No protestors. A handful of police. And one TV cameramen. By noon, there would be more media and more cooing over the couples, but not much else. Even the portly white female minister, who stood by the exit on the east side of the building waiting for couples to depart, didn’t come to threaten hellfire and damnation. In fact, she had plans to marry her female partner of 30 years the following weekend. “I support it,” she says, elaborating her reasons.
The peacefulness of the morning upset a woman of African-descent walking along the north side of the Bronx Supreme Court, on Grand Concourse. “I’m totally against this,” says the woman, staring about 100 yards into the distance, at the grand facade of the palatial courthouse, while wearing short jean shorts and a lustrous lace-front wig. At the time, the only couples standing on the steps waiting to go inside the courthouse for their wedding was a heterosexual Muslim couple whose witness had not arrived. “I stand with the church. I thought thought the church would be out here protesting.”
“It’s not in the Bible,” she adds. “If I’m not mistaken, it’s supposed to be a man and woman. What’s next? An animal?” she says and asks not to be identified because she has gay friends. “They shouldn’t have any rights, any rights at all! Be gay in your own house!” she adds.
Her daughter, a young woman who appeared to be in her early-20s, stood nearby quietly disagreeing. “Why don’t you be straight inside your house?” she mumbles, wearing short jean shorts and black skater sneakers. A hip hop and punk rock aesthetic inspired her messy black pony tail, which was streaked with red dye. “Nobody’s bothering you. It’s not one of the ten commandments,” she says. “If somebody loves somebody, they should the same rights as everyone else, if we’re all equal.”
The family feud was interrupted by the appearance in the distance of a black female couple approaching the steps of the courthouse. I all ran toward the couple, the first we could get access to that morning, with the TV reporter, and the photographer with whom I was working. With their cameras, TV dominated the first minutes of the interview, so we waited for them to leave.
The soft-spoken couple were Karen Coffield and Gwendolyn Williams, two late-40s native New Yorkers who met when they were in the same drug rehab program five years ago. The Bronx couple supported each other through their recovery and have each been clean at least four years. They were dressed casually in black and white, with Coffield wearing a nose ring, black knee-length shorts, a black cotton tanktop underneath a black button-down shirt, and a black baseball cap cocked to the side. Williams — the femme of the two — wears a black knee length skirt and a white tanktop and carries a bouquet of silk flowers.
Before Williams, Coffield says she had only been attracted to women who wore revealing clothes and liked to argue. Williams dresses modestly and resolves conflicts peacefully, traits that now endear Coffield. “My mama always said that everything that glitters ain’t gold,” Coffield says. When the judge asks them why they want to get married,Coffield says, “Because I love her.” Their families support their relationship, they say, and they are planning to have a bigger ceremony in April, one where all their friends and relatives can celebrate.
Inside the courtroom, Williams and Coffield get a number and sit and wait to be called to sign their paperwork, then get married.