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Yolanda Potasinski and Nancy Mertzel have called one another "partner" since 1997. After their wedding yesterday in New York, which married gay couples for the first time, now they can make it "wife."

Clerks' offices statewide and in New York City's five boroughs, which are usually closed on Sundays, opened to honor the law that legislators passed in Albany last month and that took effect yesterday. With 19.4 million residents, New York was the sixth and most populous U.S. state to legalize gay marriages.

Potasinski, the 55-year-old executive director of an Upper West Side synagogue, took her place in line outside the borough clerk's office on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan at 4:30 a.m. and was soon followed by hundreds ready to exchange vows. Some couples wore white dresses or suits. Others sported jeans and flip-flops. Onlookers held signs of support and passersby in taxis rolled down windows to shout their congratulations.

"It means an incredible amount," said Mertzel, a 48-year- old lawyer who joined Potasinski at the office shortly before the doors opened around 8:30 a.m. "It will be great for our kids — our relationship will be just as significant as those of the heterosexual parents of their friends."

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in Greenwich Village married the couple under a rainbow canopy across from the clerk's office as their 6-year-old son, Eli, and 4-year-old daughter, Shari, looked on. The pair, who met 20 years ago, wed in a religious ceremony in 1997.