Wife Phyllis Siegel

Queer Places:
Northwestern University, 1801 Hinman Ave, Evanston, IL 60208
Cornell University (Ivy League), 410 Thurston Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850
New York University, 70 Washington Square S, New York, NY 10012
New York City Marriage Bureau, 141 Worth St, New York, NY 10007

Connie Kopelov (April 14, 1926 - May 28, 2016) and Phyllis Siegel's wedding was the first legal same-sex marriage in New York City in 2011. Kopelov and Siegel had been partners for 23 years when they were married by the city clerk on July 24, 2011 — the same day that a state law took effect allowing same-sex couples to marry. That morning, Kopelov, then 85, and Siegel, 76, were the first couple through the door of the marriage bureau, on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan. The City Council speaker at the time, Christine C. Quinn, a lesbian and prominent gay rights activist, stood in attendance around 9 a.m. as the clerk, Michael McSweeney, said, “I now pronounce you married.” Siegel held Kopelov’s head and kissed her on the left cheek. Kopelov smiled and held her marriage license aloft. “I lost my breath,” Siegel said, recalling the moment. “It was just the most exciting loss of breath I’ve ever had. I just was so happy.” From that day on, Siegel said, people would stop them on the street and congratulate them.

Constance Kopelov was born on April 14, 1926, in the industrial city of Kokomo, Ind., to Samuel and Bessie Kopelov. She graduated from Northwestern University in 1947 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and later earned a master’s from Goddard College in Vermont in 1974. In 1955 she moved from Chicago to New York City, where she held positions in union organizations, including the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and the Workers Defense League. Her work often focused on women’s issues, and she taught courses on women’s labor history at Cornell University and New York University. “She was always fighting for an issue,” Siegel said. “She was always for the underdog.”

Kopelov and Siegel met in the mid-1980s through their involvement with an advocacy group, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders. New York State’s legalization of same-sex marriage followed a multiyear legislative battle that ended with the State Senate’s narrow approval of the Marriage Equality Act in June 2011. The law took effect one month later, on a Sunday, after which hundreds of gay and lesbian couples turned up at town halls and city clerks’ offices across the state. New York became the sixth and largest state to allow same-sex couples to wed, a milestone that energized gay-rights advocates as they pushed their campaign across the country. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees all Americans, including same-sex couples, a right to marriage. In 2012, just shy of their first wedding anniversary, Kopelov and Siegel were honored as grand marshals of New York City’s Gay Pride Parade, along with the singer Cyndi Lauper and Chris Salgardo, the president of the cosmetics company Kiehl’s. The couple were chauffeured down Fifth Avenue in a lime green convertible.

Connie Kopelov died in Manhattan on May 28, 2016. She was 90. Her death was confirmed by Siegel, who said Kopelov had been in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

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