First same-sex couple takes vows at Town Hall

07/28/2011 2:20 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm officiated at the first gay marriage ceremony on the lawn at Town Hall Thursday afternoon of Theresa Claudio, 44 (left) and Nancy Zaharick, 51 of Mastic. Their three year-old toy poodle Bandit was the ring bearer.

After 22 years together, Theresa Claudio and Nancy Zaharick of Mastic were the first same-sex couple to say “I do” in Riverhead Town Hall Thursday afternoon.

And though the couple has three dogs, it was their toy poodle Bandit who served as ring bearer, carrying the wedding bands in a pouch around his neck.

“He was the only one with a tux,” Ms. Claudio said of the 6-year-old dog, who donned a tiny tuxedo T-shirt for the occasion.

Applications for same-sex marriages became available statewide Sunday, but Riverhead Town Hall is closed that day. And town clerk Diane Wilhelm usually only performs weddings on Thursdays.

Ms. Wilhelm said that as of Wednesday, eight same-sex couples had so far applied for marriage licenses.

Ms. Claudio and Ms. Zaharick were married in a simple ceremony on the lawn outside Town Hall.

The one bride wore a white button-down and a pair of black slacks while the other bride wore a black button-down with white pants. Both wore a crown of baby’s breath. They were surrounded by giant heart-shaped balloons and chose calla lilies for the bouquet.

“I think we’re both relieved,” Ms. Claudio, a bus driver dispatcher, said of finally being able to call her long-time partner her wife. “We’re just going to celebrate and savor this moment.”

“A lot of issues [were resolved],” said Ms. Zaharick, a graphic designer. “God forbid one us got ill.”

The pair showed off matching gold rings with diamonds and iridescent stones set inside following the ceremony. Ms. Claudio’s mother and sister attended the event. For today, the couple will just enjoy lunch at Applebee’s in Shirley and then plan a celebration for friends and family at a later date.

The two women, who were set up by friends more than two decades ago, decided to marry after Ms. Zaharick popped the question while walking along a boardwalk in Carolina Beach, N.C.

Ms. Claudio’s mother said she has been supportive of the couple since day one.

“It’s been a long time coming,” the elder Ms. Claudio said of the nuptials. “I’m excited. Very excited.”

Ms. Claudio’s sister, Cathy Cartegna, said she played “Going to the Chapel” for the newlyweds on their way to the ceremony.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Ms. Cartegna, admitting that she got slightly choked up during the vows. “Love overcomes everything.”

vchinese@timesreview.com