Braddock's mayor performs Allegheny County's first gay marriage

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John Kandray and Bill Gray, two Swissvale men who have been together for 11 years, were eager to say "I do." They wanted someone to marry them.

The trouble was finding someone to say "I will."

They found that person in John Fetterman, the colorful and controversial mayor of Braddock, who joined Allegheny County's first gay couple in a ceremony Monday in front of his home.

"There is no reason on earth not to," said Mr. Fetterman, who was honored by the White House last year as a "Champion of Change." "If a gay couple asks me to marry them, I will if they have a valid license."

Getting the license was the hard part. Pennsylvania is one of 35 states that ban same-sex marriage.

But two weeks ago, D. Bruce Hanes -- the register of wills in Montgomery County -- began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Mr. Kandray and Mr. Gray, who already had discussed going to New York for a license, traveled across the state to get theirs.

"We saw an opportunity and went for it," Mr. Kandray said.

They had to act fast, they said, because the state Department of Health, under Gov. Tom Corbett, has filed a lawsuit in Harrisburg asking the Commonwealth Court to order Mr. Hanes to cease and desist. Mr. Corbett's general counsel also sent a letter to Kathleen Kane, the state attorney general, accusing her of abrogating her duty for refusing to defend the ban, which the Legislature passed in 1996.

Arguments in the court case are to be heard in the coming weeks.

Mr. Kandray, 40, and Mr. Gray, 41, who live in Regent Square, compared the ban on gay marriage to other instances of discrimination.

"We're in love, happy, and active in communities, but we don't have the same rights," Mr. Kandray said. "We realized we were being discriminated against and wanted to take a stance for our families, friends, neighbors and same-sex couples like us. This is no different from past times when interracial couples were not allowed to marry."

They said they approached Mr. Fetterman to perform the ceremony because of his outspoken stands for marriage equality.

Mr. Fetterman was the first Pennsylvania mayor to sign a statement by the "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry," an organization that advocates for the right of same-sex couples to marry.

"I urge Corbett to tear down the law and replace it with equity, fairness and quality for all," Mr. Fetterman said.

The couple was married in front of family, friends and neighbors who gathered to watch the ceremony.

Mr. Kandray said Pennsylvania's law hurts because gay couples have to go through so many steps to gain equality.

"If I was to die, my house would go to my next of kin and not my husband," Mr. Kandray said. "I know we're in the spotlight, and prepared for it, but that's not why we did it. If people hide and don't stand up, a change won't happen."

mobilehome - neigh_east

Kelton Brooks: kbrooks@post-gazette.com.


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