Outdated marriage license forms leave same-sex couples confused

Same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses in Allegheny County must make a designation for bride or groom

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So which is the bride and which is the groom?

That can be a vexing problem if a same-sex couple applies for a marriage license in Allegheny County, as Bob O’Shea and his partner of 28 years, Brad Evans, discovered.

Even though same-sex marriage was legalized May 20 in Pennsylvania, the county’s website still only accepts forms that make the couple designate the “bride” and “groom,” even as other counties, from Elk to Lackawanna to Philadelphia to Centre to Beaver, have changed their forms to a variation of “applicant.”

“Does it really matter which one of us is the bride? Is there some criteria that must apply to that?” said Mr. O’Shea, 58, of Crafton, who emailed the county’s Department of Records office to find out why.

Sarah Lange, a supervisor in Allegheny County’s Marriage License Bureau, wrote back to Mr. O’Shea and said the Pennsylvania Department of Health is supposed to change the forms to reflect the new law but has not done so yet .

The bureau is simply taking applications “as is. It will stay that way for anyone who applies and gets married. It does not matter who is the groom or bride,” she said.

Kate Barkman, county director of court records, said in a statement that “Allegheny County, like the other 66 counties, uses the marriage license application the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, issued. At this time, no county has received guidance regarding what terminology will be used on the statewide marriage license application and is waiting for that direction.”

The “bride” and “groom” listing on the marriage application “is the only item that does not reflect a more neutral designation of the parties,” she said.

Ms. Barkman said, “county Executive Rich Fitzgerald has been extremely supportive of same-sex marriage, and we have reflected that support, as well as the decision of the court, in the Marriage License office by making changes to terminology on our website and in the materials that are provided to applicants.”

While the county waits for the new forms to arrive from the state, “people have been flipping coins to decide who will be bride and groom,” said Magisterial District Judge Hugh McGough.

Judge McGough has performed 59 same-sex weddings in Allegheny County since May 20, and while the couples uniformly praise the warm welcome they receive in the Marriage License Bureau, a few find the application form’s designation “unfortunate,’’ he said.

Other counties have not taken the same wait-and-see approach.

In Beaver County, money is tight and new forms weren’t in the cards, so “we just white out bride’ and ’groom’ and replace them with ’applicant,’ ” said Carol Fiorucci, the register of wills, While they wait for the new forms to arrive, “We want to be sensitive to the subject, and we want to be courteous,” she said.

“We had our software companies change our application forms the day after the law changed,” said Michael Ginsburg, register of wills for Westmoreland County, from bride and groom to “applicant.”

On the day a federal judge ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and the Corbett administration announced it would not appeal, couples started showing up in Mr. Ginsburg’s office for marriage licenses.

“We hadn’t had time yet to make the changes, and when they saw ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ on the forms, some of them were bothered by that,” Mr. Ginsburg said.

“A couple of them got excited, though and started arguing which one was the bride and which one was the groom.”

Late Friday, Holli Senior, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, emailed a statement that said since the ruling in May, the department “has been exploring options to determine what changes may be necessary to the state’s marriage application and other vital records forms. We will continue to work with all counties and ensure that they are provided with information as it becomes available.”

Mackenzie Carpenter, mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949 or on Twitter @MackenziePG.

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