Nutter won't officiate at same-sex wedding

Posted: September 11, 2013

PHILADELPHIA Mayor Nutter, a staunch supporter of marriage equality and gay rights, will not officiate at same-sex weddings until after court challenges to the legality and licensing of such marriages are resolved, his spokesman said Monday.

That decision was met with disappointment by a Philadelphia couple who recently asked the mayor to oversee their wedding after obtaining a marriage license in Montgomery County, which has been issuing licenses to same-sex couples - in defiance of state law - since late July.

"It's discrimination," said Marcus Saitschenko, 52, a real estate agent who lives in Old City with Jim Goldstein, his partner of 22 years. "I'm asking the mayor to do the right thing."

Gloria Casarez, director of the city's LGBT Affairs Office, said Saitschenko's request "had not been denied." Rather, she said, the city wants to be sure that such marriages, performed here, "are on firm legal ground."

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Nutter, said asking the mayor to officiate at a same-sex wedding at this moment is like asking him to break the state's 1996 Marriage Law, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The law is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union - a legal challenge that Nutter supports, McDonald said.

But going against the law right now, said McDonald, "is a fraught position for a public official to take."

Saitschenko, who supported Nutter during his run for mayor, said he simply asked the mayor to "be on the right side of history."

About 10 years ago, Saitschenko said, he and Goldstein obtained a civil union from Vermont, but they never ventured to states where same-sex couples could marry, like New York or Delaware, because they wanted to marry in their home state.

The biggest step they could take toward that goal came in July, when Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes said his office would defy state law and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples who request them. Saitschenko and Goldstein obtained theirs on the first day they were available. Since then, Saitschenko said, the couple has been seeking an elected official to oversee their wedding ceremony. He first tried Nutter, Saitschenko said, and also reached out to Larry Keller, the mayor of New Hope, which has a reputation as one of the state's most gay-friendly towns.

Keller - who supports same-sex marriage - also demurred, citing legal risks to himself and the borough if he breached the law. Malcolm Lazin, director of Equality Forum, an LGBT rights organization, said it was "personally disappointing that the mayor of Philadelphia lacks the courage to stand up for same-sex couples."

Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, said criticism of the mayor was "foolish" because of Nutter's long support of LGBT rights.

Nutter was the first Philadelphia mayor to appoint an LGBT liaison within the mayor's office, and this year signed a landmark bill giving tax incentives to companies that expand health coverage for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. That measure was hailed as the first of its kind in the nation.

At least one elected official has officiated same-sex weddings in the state: John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock, outside Pittsburgh, who said he has overseen 11.

He said the decision was easy.

"I was presented with a valid license, and I believe in equal protection under the law. If there are legal problems," he said, "I'd rather be a principled civilian than a cowardly or homophobic mayor."

Saitschenko said Fetterman has offered to officiate at his marriage to Goldstein. He said that while they appreciate that gesture, they hope to find an official closer to their home, family, and friends.

Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217-8305,, or follow on Twitter at @cs_palmer

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