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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Overwhelmed by marriage applications from gay and lesbian couples who can wed under a new law starting Sunday, New York City is conducting a lottery to decide who will be allowed to marry that day.
City officials said Tuesday that 764 couples were expected to be married Sunday, more than the city's previous single-day high of 621 on Valentine's Day in 2003 and 610 marriages on August 8, 2008.
"We've done our homework and it's clear that the number of couples who want to marry Sunday is more than the City Clerk's offices could possibly handle," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference in explaining the lottery.
Couples can register in the lottery between noon Tuesday and noon on July 21 if they want to marry at any of the five city clerk's offices Sunday. Winners will be selected randomly.
"The fairest way to determine who gets the chance to wed on Sunday and ensure everyone can properly plan for their own big day is through an even-handed lottery system," Bloomberg said.
He urged those who do not win the lottery to consider going Monday or another day.
Bloomberg and other city officials said that 2,661 online applications had been made since July 5, of which 1,728 were same-sex couples benefiting from New York State's Marriage Equality Act, which was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 24.
The law made the state the sixth and most populous in the United States to allow same-sex marriage.
Clerk's offices are normally closed on Sundays, but officials across the state said they would open them to marry same-sex couples on the first day the law takes effect.
At least two town clerks in the state, citing religious objections, have resigned to avoid being forced to sign licenses for gay and lesbian couples.
"We will be completely prepared and ready," City Clerk Michael McSweeney told reporters. "We look forward to being a part of history."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is expected to marry her woman partner under the new law but not enter the lottery, said many judges had volunteered to perform ceremonies and speed up the process.
"That's what happens when you pass laws that expand human rights, you unite people," Quinn said at the same news conference.
"We want to make as many New Yorkers have the most important part of their life be that first Sunday."
Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr.; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Paul Simao