NEW YORK — Gelixa Ortiz and Elizabeth Rivera waited years for the chance to formally join their lives and declare their union in front of their loved ones. On Friday, they had their moment as one of New York City's first couples to have an official domestic partner ceremony.
Rivera, wearing a knee-length white slip dress with dark brown beading at the neckline, and Ortiz, in a chocolate brown sleeveless top and pants, exchanged rings and made their 10-year relationship an official domestic partnership in a ceremony conducted by New York City's clerk, Michael McSweeney.
"By the authority vested in me in accordance of the rules of the city of New York, I now formally pronounce you domestic partners," McSweeney said, as 13 guests looked on, some in tears.
New York City has allowed couples to register as domestic partners since 1993, but it wasn't until this week that the city began granting them the option of a ceremony at the clerk's office. It's the same as what they offer couples who are legally marrying, and the cost is $25.
The domestic partner ceremony does not carry with it any additional legal benefits, and gay marriage still is not legal in New York state.
Perhaps because the new policy at the city clerk's office is ceremonial only, the city has seen few couples take advantage of the offer.
The change took effect Thursday, and on the first day just three couples had ceremonies. On Friday, there were just two more.
In 2009, 5,500 couples registered as domestic partners in New York City.
Of the five couples total that had the ceremony this week, four were same-sex couples and one was opposite sex, the clerk's office said. About 70 percent of couples who register as domestic partners in New York City are opposite sex, the clerk said.
Many municipalities extend benefits to employees' domestic partners, and according to the Human Rights Campaign, a growing number of businesses – including a majority of Fortune 500 companies – do so as well.
Gay advocates said any policy change that protects couples and families is beneficial, but the real goal is marriage rights.
"This is a good step in the right direction, but our community very well knows that it's not a substitution for full equality," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.
For Rivera and Ortiz, the two-minute ceremony, which ended in cheers, kisses and tears, was as good as it could get for now.
"We wanted to make it official," Rivera said. "We really want to get married, but domestic partnership is the same to us."
Rivera carried a bouquet of white roses, and Ortiz wore a matching white rose boutonniere. They planned a big party at their Brooklyn home following the ceremony.