A Penn Hills couple who waited more than three decades to marry finally got to say their coveted "I do's" Sunday, along with 18 other couples who were married in Pittsburgh's first same-sex wedding that Mayor Bill Peduto officiated.
Many voices quivered with emotion. Some of the words were tinged with tears, and a few fingers trembled as they fumbled with rings that symbolized the long journey that many of these couples had taken -- one that finally ended in front of the dais in Pittsburgh's city council chambers.
"Love is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right now," said Mr. Peduto, quoting Fred Rogers.
PrideFest wraps with wedding
Mayor William Peduto officiated a marriage ceremony for 19 same-sex couples in the City-Council chambers. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/15/2014)
Dressed in a black robe, with county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and city council President Bruce Kraus flanking him, the mayor noted the historic significance of the day, made possible on May 20, when a federal judge declared Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
"We weren't able to do what we're about to do -- it wasn't possible," in the city's 198-year history, Mr. Peduto said. "We're entering into a new phase -- a new Pittsburgh."
Nancy Janda and Larisa Van Winkle of Penn Hills waited 32 years for this day.
"We met in 1981 in college, and we fell in love," said Ms. Janda, 50. "Honestly, I went to college looking for the right guy, and I found her. It was the surprise of my life."
The two wanted to wait for Pennsylvania to legalize their union, although it was tempting to marry in Massachusetts, the first state to approve same-sex marriage in 2004.
"But we thought why should we get married in another state and come home and be unmarried?" Ms. Janda said. "It would have been heart-breaking, so we decided to wait."
On Sunday, they were glad they had.
"I didn't expect this would happen in my lifetime," Ms. Janda said of the Pennsylvania ruling, which scuttled the state's 18-year-old Defense of Marriage Act.
"We've been in love and living together for a long time," said Ms. Van Winkle, 52. "This validates everything we've been through."
Also married Sunday were Terry Cowden, 47, and Karla Bolster, 48, of Beechview, who waited 21 years to legally wed.
The two had a commitment ceremony in 1995 in Massachusetts, and Ms. Cowden's job as a guidance counselor at Carrick High School provides her with same-sex family benefits, but they still longed to call each other wife.
"We were just kind of waiting," Ms. Cowden said. "I didn't think it would happen in our lifetime, at least not in Pennsylvania."
The couple has two children, Kaela Bolster Blum, 27, and Tyler Cowden Bolster, 15, along with a grandson, 10-month-old Nolan Blum. They all attended the ceremony; each couple were permitted to bring four guests.
The ceremony featured all of the pomp and circumstance the city could muster, with live violin music, flowers and every kind of dress imaginable, ranging from formal wear to casual, with Hawaiian leis for one couple. Sameer Samudra and Amit Gokhale, who drove from Columbus, Ind., wore Indian Sherwani, colorful frock-like garments, for their Pittsburgh wedding.
"We like Pittsburgh. It's a great city," said Mr. Samudra, who is originally from Pune, India, where he said the lifestyle is more progressive and accepting of LGBT rights, though same-sex unions are not yet legal in the country of 1.2 billion people. They are also not legal in Indiana.
Mr. Samudra and Mr. Gokhale have been together for 11 years and waited about half of that time to make their union official.
There was a handful of protesters outside the City-County Building on Grant Street after the ceremony, but the thousands of supporters in rainbow colors drowned out the few detractors who held signs and chanted through a megaphone.
The newlyweds marched in the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh's Pride Parade with Mr. Peduto and Mr. Fitzgerald, on their way to the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel, where a complimentary cocktail reception was waiting for the couples and their guests.
"It's a big day for these couples, and it's a big day for the whole region," Mr. Fitzgerald said as he strolled along the parade route.
"It was hard to separate the historic moment from the emotional moment for these couples," said Mr. Peduto, who was officiating his first wedding as mayor.
Judges had married other same-sex couples in the Allegheny County Courthouse since the court ruling last month, but it was the first time the mayor had done so in council chambers.
"In a way, Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh started on a new journey, too, realizing that equal rights apply to everybody," Mr. Peduto said. "There was a lot of love in that room."
Area businesses donated all of the flowers, refreshments, printing and other items, said Katie O'Malley, assistant communications manager for the mayor's office.
"They are all LGBT friendly," she said of the vendors who donated goods. "We didn't go to anyone -- everyone came to us."
That included the Fairmont, where the couples were regaled in the hotel's lavish ball room with sparkling wine, individual wedding cakes and one large display cake that the hotel's pastry chef made.
"We just knew we wanted to do something to celebrate [the court ruling]," said Julie Abramovic, the hotel's public relations manager. "We wanted to feature our best food and our best service."
Guests enjoyed strawberry gazpacho, Parmesan risotto, a carved beef tenderloin and other gourmet hors d'oeuvres.
"We are honored to be doing this," Ms. Abramovic said. "We are so excited for these couples and for Pennsylvania. We're thankful to be a part of this day."
The ceremony coincided with the last day of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and the large turnout of more than 100,000 during the festivities impressed Gregory Troup, 28, and Eric Miller, 25, both of Carnegie, who said the ruling, which ended their four-year engagement, pleasantly surprised them.
"We wanted to wait for Pennsylvania," Mr. Miller said.
"So we could spend it with our family and friends," Mr. Troup said, finishing his husband's sentence.
During a toast at the hotel, Mr. Peduto said he was proud of the city and the residents who welcomed the couples with open arms and loving hearts.
"Pittsburgh put its heart out today," he said. "To the 19 couples who today start on their journey in a city and state who can say we've been given that equal right, congratulations."