Pittsburgh-area couples among those suing to legalize gay marriage in Pennsylvania

For plaintiffs, unmarried status hits home

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Diana Polson said she and Dawn Plummer are "not really the type of people to be that outspoken," but on Tuesday the two mothers stepped on stage as plaintiffs in a lawsuit demanding that Pennsylvania permit them to marry and making the state the new center of the legal contest over gay marriage.

Ms. Polson, 37, and Ms. Plummer, 36, are parenting Elijah, 5, and Jude, 7 1/2 months, in their Point Breeze home. They can't marry in this state because of its Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a bond between man and woman, and explicitly rules out acceptance of same-sex marriages joined in other states.

"We feel proud of our family, and we're excited to make this next step," said Ms. Polson, because it's "an injustice that we don't have that recognition of our relationship."

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Philadelphia law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller filed the lawsuit on behalf of 10 gay couples and one widow in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, asking the federal court to declare the state act unconstitutional. The choice of plaintiffs appears tailored to illustrate that gay couples can be engaged citizens and attentive parents.

The nominal lead plaintiffs, Deb and Susan Whitewood of Bridgeville, went to Washington County's Recorder of Wills office last month, seeking recognition of their partnership of 22 years and their joint parenting of three children, but were denied a marriage license application.

Ms. Plummer works for the Poverty Institute at the Union Theological Seminary. Ms. Polson consults for Keystone Research Center. They were at work two weeks ago, watching TV news when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Because Pennsylvania won't let them marry, the Supreme Court's decision won't allow them to get joint health insurance, avoid the $2,500 adoption cost they face to make Ms. Polson the official second parent of Jude or allow them to check "married" on tax returns and other forms.

Ms. Plummer, from Alexandria, Va., and Ms. Polson, from Camp Hill, Pa., met in 1997 while both were studying abroad in Brazil.

Ms. Plummer gave birth to Elijah, and the two had Ms. Polson formally named the adoptive second parent. Ms. Polson gave birth to Jude. Money is tight, and they are hoping to gain a married couple's automatic recognition of their joint parenting of Jude.

Susan Whitewood, 49, an executive at BNY Mellon, and Deb Whitewood, 45, a homemaker, went through that process with the second-parent adoptions of their daughters, Abbey, 16, and Katie, 14. They later adopted a son, Landon, 2.

Their daughters are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

"My moms love each other," Abbey said. "I want to be part of something bigger. I want to prove to other kids my age that we can make a change."

The Whitewoods went through a holy union ceremony in 1993.

"It was a wedding," Deb Whitewood said. "It was two people that got together with their family and friends in front of their minister and pledged their support and commitment for a lifetime to each other."

Plaintiffs Fredia Hurdle, 49, and Lynn Hurdle, 43, of Crafton Heights, also have been together for 22 years, raising numerous kids. They offer conflicting accounts of the details of their first meeting. Fredia Hurdle was driving for Greyhound. Lynn Hurdle was a passenger.

They got to talking. Lynn said to Fredia Hurdle: "Let me just ask you: Are you a lesbian?"

They ended up raising Lynn Hurdle's now-25-year-old daughter together, and took care of three young members of Fredia's extended family for years.

Today, Fredia Hurdle is a truck driver for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Lynn is a pediatric nurse. Not being wed meant not being able to pool their incomes for the purposes of borrowing for the kids' college.

Their unmarried status really hit home, though, when Fredia Hurdle was hospitalized for a gall bladder problem.

"When I went to the [hospital] room, she was gone," Lynn Hurdle said. "They never called me and told me that they were taking her [to surgery]. When I went to the doctor and asked what was going on, they wouldn't tell me.

"It made me feel horrible. I love her, and I want to be there. ... I definitely felt helpless."

They later got powers of attorney for each other.

"We didn't ask to be different," Lynn Hurdle said. "We live our lives as a married, American couple, and we do it without the acknowledgement of being married."

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord


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