Thursday, July 25, 2013

Marriage Equality Comes To A Small Corner Of Pennsylvania

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.


Ron said...


I saw this story last night on "The Last Word" with Lawrence O'Donnell. It did my heart good to see an official, a Register of Wills (oh how I love hearing that term again having dealt with Register of Wills during my 30 year banking career in the trust department in Philadelphia) say he "wanted to be on the right side of history." I was born in Pennsylvania and lived and worked most of my adult life in Pennsylvania, only having to move to Delaware because I couldn't afford its ever increasing school and property taxes. I was always a proud Pennsylvanian, albeit a former Pennsylvanian, until recent years when Pennsylvania government took a radical turn to the right. Enacting voter ID laws to discourage minority voting, passing ever more restrictive anti-choice laws and the final indignity; enacting a law making it illegal for same sex couples to get married. I never thought I would live to see the state where I was born to be more right wing and radical than my brother John's adopted state of South Carolina. Hearing this news yesterday gives me glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, some in government in Pennsylvania will come to their senses and do what is right and be in the "right side of history."

anne marie in philly said...

bob, spouse and I live in this county and I am proud of my county official saying FUCK YOU to our backkasswards state guvmint in this regard!

the dogs' mother said...

Saw this on Rachel Maddow rebroadcast at 1am pst. (waiting for The Engineer to arrive from Denver). More baby steps.

Biki Honko said...

I'm glad when someone steps up to the plate and pushes back against bigots. The day of being second class citizens is nearing its death bed.