Same-sex couples to seek Pennsylvania marriage licenses today



The October 2006 wedding of A.J. and Diane Anderson had all the elements of a typical ceremony -- a tuxedo, a gown, a walk down the aisle, family and friends in the audience, an exchange of vows in front of a pastor. When it was over, the couple left the Metropolitan Community Church of Pittsburgh for a honeymoon at a bed and breakfast.

Unlike most weddings, though, it wasn't sealed with a Pennsylvania marriage license. A.J. and Diane, who are lesbians, officially were married in New York in 2012, but their relationship is unrecognized by Pennsylvania.

This morning, the two women and four other same-sex couples will celebrate Valentine's Day by applying for marriage licenses at the City-County Building. They don't expect to leave with licenses, but they hope the event, organized by Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania, or ME4PA, will raise awareness of their campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.

"We're really expecting everyone to get turned down, but the more this stays in the limelight, the more people will understand that there is an inequality," said Tamala Arbaczewski, who will attend with her partner, Colleen.

The couples will indeed be turned down, said Amie Downs, director of the Allegheny County Communications Division. The clerks on duty will tell them they can't receive licenses under state law and will suggest they contact their state representatives, she said.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald hoped to attend the event to lend his support but had a scheduling conflict, Ms. Downs said.

The event is part of an effort by gay rights organizations and other groups to make same-sex marriage legal in Pennsylvania.

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit challenging a 1996 state statute that outlawed same-sex marriage on the grounds that it violates the 14th Amendment. The trial, Whitewood v. Wolf, is set to begin in June.

The groups also are advocating for House Bill 1686, which would make same-sex marriage legal. Introduced in October, it was referred to the judiciary committee.

Before Pennsylvania can become the 18th state to legalize same-sex marriage, the gay rights movement must confront a determined opposition. Last year, several state legislators began the latest efforts to pass an amendment to the state Constitution declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman. The amendment, which has 36 sponsors, has been in committee since May.

Melissa Watson, the Allegheny County coordinator for ME4PA, is optimistic about the chances for gay marriage in Pennsylvania.

"If not this year, next year," she said. "I think Pennsylvania is so ready."


Richard Webner: 412-263-4903 or rwebner@post-gazette.com.

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