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Wedding fever hits NYC as same-sex couples line up to marry

Shannon Stapleton / AP

Same-sex couple Douglas Robinson, right, and Michael Elsasser exchange wedding rings during their wedding ceremony at the City Clerk's Office in New York on Sunday.

By Barbara Raab
NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

 You would have had to get up and out of the house pretty early on this hot and sultry morning in New York City if you wanted to beat Yolanda Potasinski to the punch.

Potasinksi, 55, had taken up her post at the corner of Worth and Centre Streets in downtown Manhattan, outside the City Clerk’s office, at 4:30 a.m., to be sure she’d be among the first to get a marriage license on a day she and her partner Nancy Mertzel had been waiting for since what felt like forever.

“I could not sleep,”  Potasinski said, “I just couldn’t wait,” so she headed downtown, holding that precious spot until Mertzel and the couple’s two children joined her a few hours later.

By 7:30 this morning, the orderly, quietly celebratory line of same-sex couples inside metal police barriers stretched up one long city block, and it would not be long before it wrapped around the massive building. Some of the couples were dressed for the sweltering temperatures, while others dressed in spite of it, in tuxedos, suits, and a wedding dress or two.

Seongman Hong, from the borough of Queens, worked his usual Saturday overnight shift at a Korean restaurant in midtown Manhattan, then came directly from there to join his partner Patrick Plain in the wedding line.

“We wanted to be part of history,” Plain said, a sentiment expressed over and over today when couples were asked why they wanted to get married today.

Jason Decrow / AP

Heather Bruner, far right, and Jody Wicker, second right, both of Cleveland, embrace as they wait to get married at the Manhattan City Clerk's office.

It felt a bit like Vegas, too.  Shaun Burse and Jameese Cox, both 31, had flown in Saturday from their home near Chatanooga, Tenn., to get married, even though their home state will not recognize their union.

Heather Bruner, 26, and Jody Wicker, 20, got in their car last night in Cleveland, Ohio, drove all night and arrived at the Clerk’s office at 6 this morning.

“It’s just the way to show our love,” Bruner said. “You never know when it’s going to happen” in Ohio.

The doors to the Clerk’s office opened at about 8:45 a.m. While the day may have been historic and unusual, the procedure was familiar to anybody who has ever visited their local Department of Motor Vehicles: Take a number, stand in line, wait for your number to be flashed on the overhead board, and step up to the designated window with official identification.

Michael Appleton / Pool / EPA

Phyllis Siegel, 76, right, kisses her wife Connie Kopelov, 84, after exchanging vows SUnday.

By late morning, there were hundreds of couples, most of them sweaty but happy, sitting on couches and windowsills or on the floor, posing for wedding photos, or just milling about patiently, waiting for their numbers to come up.

Phyllis Siegel, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, who have been together for 23 years, were the first couple in. Siegel called it a very, very happy day,” and revealed “I lost my breath and I shed a few tears.”

When Douglas Robinson introduced Michael Elsasser as “my partner,” he smiled, looked at Elsasser, and corrected himself: Elsasser, he said, is “my spouse now.”

As newly-married couples left the Clerk’s office, many held their marriage licenses in the air, and were cheered by well-wishers who had gathered near the exit.

And newlyweds Yolanda Potasinski and Nancy Mertzel were with their friends and family just a block away, under what Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah described as a “pop-up rainbow chuppah,” where they finally, after 17 years together, made it official.