Banner photographs courtesy of J & J Photography (left) and Emily G Photography.
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Gay and lesbian weddings in New York

Two weddings, one happy family

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Photo gallery

Valerie and Charlotte take a playful photo with props after their wedding.
Charlotte is lovingly looking down at the couple’s twin daughters, Eva (left) and Etta. Brooklyn’s Dangerous Mathematicians designed Charlotte’s suit and her brown vest was custom made to match her daughter Eva’s dress.
Valerie and Charlotte being married by officiant, Kevin Bain.
A magic moment: During the wedding ceremony, officiant Kevin Bain tied a ribbon around both the brides’ hands and had them light a candle symbolizing the unity of their families.
Valerie and Charlotte pose by a fireplace in “Round Hill” — a mansion in Washingtonville where the couple had their wedding and reception.
Valerie gets goofy with guests in her Vera Wang gown.
The happy Garofalos.
Post-wedding bliss outside of “Round Hill.”
The couple’s wedding cake was made by Pastry Garden in Poughkeepsie.
Round Hills’ in-house catering, FEAST, provided the food while Valerie designed the place settings and menus. Instead of party favors, the couple donated to charities that were near and dear to their guests — Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Wounded Warrior Project, Policeman Windows Fund, and Fireman’s Widows Fund. “We then placed cards [that illustrated their donation] at each table accordingly — for those suffering or affected by cancer, or police officers and firefighters in attendance. It really was touching when people sat and realized what was in front of their seat,” says Charlotte.
Valerie also designed the seating cards.
The couple has each other’s fingerprints engraved into their wedding rings. Valerie also designed her broach bouquet.
The couple winds down the night by dancing with their daughters. Music was provided by Danny Gee of DMC Sound.

In February of 2011, Charlotte and Valerie Garafolo were having dinner at Coquito, their favorite restaurant in their hometown of Warwick, NY, and Charlotte was struggling to contain her frustration.

“It was the day of our 10-year-anniversary, and Valerie hadn’t gotten me anything,” Charlotte recalls. “I need gifts. I was kind of pissed.”

The couple finished eating and just as they were about to order dessert, the door to the kitchen opened, and out walked Bill Leech — a friend and the owner of the restaurant. Leech presented Charlotte with a brownie with a candle in it and when she looked down to blow out the candle, she noticed the words: “Will you marry me?” Valerie smiled at her.

“She even bought me a necklace,” Charlotte says. “I felt like a jerk.”

Both women, who have known each other for 14 years, are originally from New York City, but that’s where the similarities end. The couple is proof that opposites really do attract. Charlotte is an 18-year veteran police officer in the NYPD, while Valerie is a 19-year veteran hairdresser at Space Salon in Soho. Valerie “loves the nightlife” while Charlotte, who’s more straight and narrow, prefers to spend her free time at home in the country.

Lifestyles aside, the couple has learned to compromise over the years. Valerie initially didn’t want to have kids, but today they are the proud parents of twin, 5-year-old daughters, Eva and Etta. They even own a home together.

“When we first met, she didn’t want any part of me,” former wild-child Valerie says. “Look at us now.”

Shortly after their anniversary dinner, the couple exchanged vows in a private civil marriage in Connecticut. They were thrilled to be married, but something lingered within both of them — they wanted to share their love with family and friends from New York City.

A year later, they got the chance. The Friday that New York State legalized same-sex marriage, Charlotte and Valerie marched in the NYPD-sponsored Gay Officers Action League parade alongside nearly 200 other police officers and their families. Charlotte remembered that the experience was overwhelming.

That same weekend, Charlotte and Valerie attended their very first same-sex wedding.

“It was on a beach on Long Island and the bride’s parents walked her down the aisle,” Charlotte says. “It was the real thing. That’s when we started planning our wedding in New York.”

Their dream of getting married in New York finally came true on May 19, 2013. The couple gathered 150 of their closest friends and family members in a mansion in Washingtonville for the wedding that they always wanted.

“We wanted to feel close to our guests,” Valerie said. “We didn’t want a banquet hall-type feel.”

Despite their distaste for a banquet-hall wedding tradition, the couple opted to maintain many aspects of a conventional wedding. Charlotte refused to see Valerie prior to the ceremony. Valerie wore a white Vera Wang dress and Charlotte wore a custom suit. Their daughters, Eva and Etta, both wore dresses in colors matching those of Valerie and Charlotte, respectively.

“When I walked in the room, I felt like someone had pushed me over,” Valerie says. “I cried the whole time.”

The officiant, Kevin Bain, interviewed Charlotte and Valerie separately and put their love story together. At the end of the service, Bain tied a ribbon around both of their hands and had them light a candle symbolizing the unity of their families. Both Valerie and Charlotte agree that it was a magical moment.

“People are still talking about our wedding,” Valerie says. “They said that the love in the room was intoxicati­ng.”

But the big surprise came later, when the couple went to inspect the marriage certificate. For weeks leading up to the wedding, Charlotte had been pressing Valerie, whose given name is Orlando, to change her last name. The couple had already legally changed their daughters’ last names to “Orlando-Garafolo,” but Valerie had resisted, citing her business connections in the hairdressing world.

But when Charlotte went to look at the certificate, she discovered that Valerie had changed her last name to “Garafolo” without telling Charlotte.

“I was shocked,” Charlotte says. “If you love someone and want to hold onto the person, do it. It’s a different feeling. It’s not just a piece of paper.”

All photos were taken by Kathy Valentine.

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Reader feedback

maryann l. from Tottenville, staten island says:
What a beautiful article about a beautiful couple. I've known Charlotte since she was around 10 years old. We are so happy for Valerie and Charlotte!
June 25, 2013, 11:20 am
patti cerasani from tottenville says:
I couldnt think of 2 people who deserve to be happy and spend their lives together..they both are very nice people and would do anything for anyone. They started a beautiful family, and they deserve the best in god nless this great family..xoxo
June 25, 2013, 2:08 pm
Charlotte from warwick ny says:
I am just so floored with the amount of love and support from so many people. We are truly blessed to have such amazing people in our lives. Maryann, and Patti youre words are so kind and touch my heart. Thank you for letting us share our story with so many xoxoxox
June 25, 2013, 4:12 pm
Kevin Bain from NYC says:
Yes...I was the honored Celebrant/Officiant. Not a greater love story could be told. Two perfect women with two perfect daughters. Raising them to believe in their choices, to believe in love & to believe in themselves. I've done MANY weddings but this one was a NOTCH above the rest. My thanks to Charlotte & Valerie & Eva & Etta for believing in me & bringing me (and my husband Adrian) into their family...
June 25, 2013, 6:09 pm
Tracy Valenti Spinelli from Tottenville, Staten Island, New York. says:
I can honestly say I felt the love you described at your wedding just reading this. I'm so proud of you and the family that you have all become. I am always filled with much Love and Pride for you and your family.
June 25, 2013, 6:34 pm
charlotte from warwick says:
Kevin, it truly wouldnt have been the same without you marrying us. I felt an instant connection to you when we " interviewed" for the job of marrying us. I believe you were put in our lives for a reason and I am so honored to make a new lifelong friend also
Tracy, what can I say? I am humbled by your heartfelt words. We knew each other as kids and I am so happy we were able to reconnect again all these years later. We both are lucky to have beautiful families ! xoxo
June 27, 2013, 1:34 pm
TQueens Gio from Far Rockaway, NY says:
That wedding was such a blast. Everything about it was beautiful. Now because of them I have that itch to plan my own family and friends wedding! The day was perfect and there probably wasn't a dry eye in the room once they started walking down the isle.
July 3, 2013, 1:08 pm
TQueens Gio from Far Rockaway, NY says:
That wedding was such a blast. Everything about it was beautiful. Now because of them I have that itch to plan my own family and friends wedding! The day was perfect and there probably wasn't a dry eye in the room once they started walking down the isle.
July 3, 2013, 1:08 pm
Charlotte from Warwick says:
Thanks so much Tif.. It's funny, bc I know I was bawling, but when I looked around the room everyone else looked dry eyed.... Until I spoke to people who all said the same as you, that they were crying their eyes out too ! I'm so glad you enjoyed it !
July 3, 2013, 1:19 pm
Renée and Sophia from NYC says:
After 40 years as a couple, we know love when we see it. At their beautiful wedding, when we saw Charlotte reaching her hand out to pull her beloved Val close to her, right before they exchanged their vows, we knew these two had a love that would last forever.
Charlotte and Val are heroes, every bit as much as our friend Edie Windsor. Edie is a hero because she took on the United States of America and fought for us all to overturn DOMA - and she won! Charlotte and Val are heroes to us because they've always lived their lives openly and honestly with their two amazing daughters, Etta and Eva. This courageous and beautiful family shows the world what real love is all about. Their wedding was a most beautiful celebration of that amazing love, and we were honored to be witness to it. Thank you Charlotte, Val, Etta and Eva! We are so happy for you!
July 11, 2013, 9:40 pm
Charlotte from Warwick says:
Thank you Renee, and Sophia. You guys are truly pioneers and role models to Val and I. We were honored to share our special day with you. Each and every special person there made it complete.
July 12, 2013, 5 am
Theresa from Eltingville,staten island says:
Beautiful story beautiful pictures beautiful family. Xoxox
Aug. 22, 2013, 11:28 pm

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