|Ellen Toplin, right, and Charlene Kurland|
Well, I didn’t see this one coming ….
Up there in Pennsylvania, in Montgomery County, to be exact, local officials have agreed to issue marriage licenses to … wait for it … same-sex couples; and this despite the fact that Pennsylvania has a law that bans same-sex marriages.
But, D. Bruce Hanes, the county's register of wills, has decided he doesn’t want to wait for equality to come to Pennsylvania, so he’s bringing it himself.
It all began on Tuesday when two women came into his office seeking a marriage license and Hanes realized he wanted to be "on the right side of history and the law." But, the two women changed their minds after a discussion with the Americans Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which has a separate lawsuit pending to challenge the state law.
"Had the couple sought the license today, I would have issued it and wished them all the freedom, independence, happiness and rights that our commonwealth’s Constitution purports to grant to them."—D. Bruce Hanes
Michael Diamondstein, the lawyer who represents the would-be newlyweds, said the women had decided "today is not the day," because of fears their marriage would be overturned.
The following day, some five same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses, and Alicia Terrizzi and Loreen Bloodgood, of Pottstown, were married right away, exchanging vows in a park before a minister and their two young sons.
"We're not setting out to be pioneers. We don't think our family is any different than anybody else. We've been waiting a long time for this."— Alicia Terrizzi
The licenses issued in Montgomery County are believed to be the first to same-sex couples in Pennsylvania, the only northeastern state without same-sex marriages or civil unions. Since 1996, Pennsylvania law has defined marriage as a civil contract in which a man and a woman take each other as husband and wife, and it says same-sex marriages, even ones entered legally elsewhere, are void in Pennsylvania.
Now, though, not so much.
And though Pennsylvania law says ‘No’ to same-sex marriages, Hanes said he studied the state constitution and the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] before deciding last week to grant same-sex licenses: "I think the constitution trumps the (state marriage) statute. This to me is a fundamental civil right."
It is, and now, perhaps just for a time if the marriages are deemed void, Alicia Terrizzi and Loreen Bloodgood are married; as are Marcus Saitschenko and his partner of 22 years, James Goldstein; as are Ellen Toplin and Charlene Kurland.
Toplin and Kurland were the two women who came in last Tuesday for that first license, only to change their minds. But, on Wednesday, they decided that, after being together for 22 years, and raising a family together, they didn’t want to wait another minute.
"I knew how I felt, but it was not an option. It was expected that I would marry a man, have children and have two cars in the suburbs. ... I think it's wonderful for young people today to be able to be who they are."— Charlene Kurland
As I said, I didn’t see this coming, and these marriages may not last — for now — but today and tomorrow, and maybe the day after that, marriage equality has added a few more couples to its marriage registry.
And that’s worth something.