Pittsburghers cheer Downtown as SCOTUS ruling is announced

Gary Van Horn couldn't wait any longer.

The 34-year-old president of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh was standing with about 300 other people on Liberty Avenue, Downtown, Wednesday morning, waiting to hear how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in two major cases involving same-sex marriage.

A live television feed was playing on a large screen, but Mr. Van Horn, after consulting his Twitter feed, a website called SCOTUSblog and text messages from his mother, already knew the outcome.

Supreme Court ruling delights Pittsburgh throng

A gathering Downtown, including many from Pittsburgh's LGBT community, reacted with cheers and hugs when the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. (Video by Andrew Rush and Nate Guidry; 6/26/2013)

He walked up to the microphone and scooped CNN.

"DOMA is done: 5 to 4," he told the waiting crowd just after 10 a.m., referring to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as one man, one woman.

A few minutes later, he again stepped up to the microphone to give another update. For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, it was more good news. The Supreme Court dismissed California's Proposition 8 case, clearing the way for same-sex marriage to resume in that state.

Cheers, tears, hugs, kisses and several speeches, including from elected officials such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, City Councilman and mayoral nominee Bill Peduto, and openly gay City Councilman Bruce Kraus, followed.

An hour later, the crowd had dispersed, a large rainbow flag had been stowed away and traffic was beginning to again move down Liberty Avenue. Mr. Van Horn remained, still trying to process it all.

"Finally, the federal government recognizes us just like everyone else," he said, his voice wavering slightly as he began to tear up. "I'm still taking it all in."

Indeed, although some people wondered aloud what the decisions would mean for them personally in Pennsylvania, in the minutes after the Supreme Court decisions were made public, the immediate reaction was joy, even if it came with a few tears.

"All I can do is cry. I'm so happy," said Nancy Holston, 60. "It's overwhelming, to know that you don't have to hide your relationship anymore."

Her partner of 33 years, 53-year-old Debbie Diedrich, added: "It's nice for it to be validated."

The two women, who have lived in McDonald for 15 years, said their relationship has been a marriage, just without the legal benefits or protections afforded to heterosexual couples. They plan to marry within the year, but didn't know immediately if they would marry in another state and return here, or move their home to a state where gay marriage is legal.

They traveled Downtown to watch news coverage of the decision, rather than view it at home, because they believed it would be an historic moment.

"The world's been changing, and it's been in a good way," Ms. Diedrich said. "We had faith."

The Supreme Court's decision came 44 years after the Stonewall demonstrations in New York City, often described as starting America's gay rights movement; 40 years after the first Pittsburgh Pride event; and 10 years to the day after the ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court case that decriminalized sodomy.

And it came less than a year after Jim Sheppard, a 27-year-old who lives in Brookline, got engaged to his longtime partner. The two men were waiting for the Supreme Court to issue its decision before they decided when -- and where -- to get married.

"All we want to do is show our love to the world," Mr. Sheppard said.

Not everyone who celebrated on Liberty Avenue was part of the LGBT community. Some, like Suz Pisano, 50, of Perry South, just wanted to show their support.

"I'm happily married for 14 years, straight," she said. "I want my gay friends to get married."

The decisions may have been historic, but Mr. Van Horn and others warned that there was more work to do, especially in Pennsylvania, when it comes to pursuing gay rights.

Yet, Mr. Van Horn said, "the tide is changing."

Less than two weeks ago, the Delta Foundation organized its annual Pittsburgh Pride event, with the theme: "I wanna marry you." Next year, he joked, it will be "I wanna marry you in Pennsylvania."

"I don't know if that's going to be the theme, but that's what we're going to be working for," he said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. Monica Disare: mdisare@post-gazette.com. First Published June 26, 2013 1:30 PM


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