Brotherly and sisterly love, legalized

PHOTOS: YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER From left: Joy Payton, Amber Orion, Kate Potalivo and Viola Vetter listen to speakers during yesterday's marriage-equality rally.
PHOTOS: YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER From left: Joy Payton, Amber Orion, Kate Potalivo and Viola Vetter listen to speakers during yesterday's marriage-equality rally.
Posted: May 22, 2014

IN A MONTH, Ashley Wilson and Lindsay Vandermay, both 29, of Fairmount, will celebrate yet again.

Having visited City Hall after work yesterday to receive their marriage license, the two women will walk down an aisle in the Outer Banks - the wedding they've been planning for the past two years of their five-year relationship.

"For me, it just feels like we're everyone else," Wilson said after obtaining the license.

She was referring to U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III's decision to strike down Pennsylvania's 1996 ban on same-sex marriage, which he called "unconstitutional" in a statement issued yesterday. The ruling, which made Pennsylvania the last state in the Northeast to overturn such a ban, allowed for homosexual couples to obtain marriage licenses yesterday afternoon in some counties.

Upon hearing the news, Vandermay phoned Wilson and began to scream and cry with excitement. Wilson, a lawyer, rushed right from work to City Hall, while Vandermay, a teacher, waited until her class was dismissed to bolt out the door.

"It's been a long time coming for us," Wilson said. "Today, you feel a sense of relief."

The city's Marriage License Bureau stayed open an extra hour yesterday, until 5:30 p.m., anticipating the city's couples to rush for the opportunity to legitimize their relationships in the eyes of the commonwealth for the first time. Today, the office will stay open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

When Guy Sabelli, marriage-license supervisor, shut the office's doors, 12 female couples and six male couples were now soon-to-be bride and bride, and groom and groom. All they needed was a Social Security card and a driver's license and they received an official marriage license that would be valid within three days.

Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci called the turn of events "great" for Philadelphia and its "image."

But Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the Fair Housing Commission, already was looking toward the next step - statewide laws to prevent discrimination in the LGBT community.

Landau and her partner, Kerry F. Smith, were the first gay couple to get married yesterday.

Advocates "did everything we could do to protect the community," Landau said. "Now, we're waiting for the state to follow suit."

Some couples, like Kristin Keith, 42, of Fishtown, and her soon-to-be spouse, Catharine Hennessy, 51, of South Philly, said they felt more calm than excited.

Keith is from Utah, where a similar ruling went back to an appeals court. That's a slight possibility in Pennsylvania, which, if the judge's decision stands, will be the 19th state to recognize gay marriage.

Keith said she read countless articles in disbelief, making sure that she and Hennessy really were able to come down, only to forget her Social Security card.

But because it was also Hennessey's birthday, the two made sure to return, making it a birthday she would never forget.

"Getting married is so complicated," Keith said with a laugh.

While couples were issued the licenses on the fourth floor, screams and chants could be heard below as hundreds of supporters rallied outside City Hall about 5 p.m.

Supporters of same-sex marriage held up signs with phrases such as "Love Wins" and "I Do Support Marriage Equality" and erupted in cheers after a rainbow flag was raised in front of the building.

The two-hour rally included speeches from the lead attorney and plaintiffs in the Harrisburg case that challenged the ban, as well as leaders from the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We never thought this day would happen," said Christine Donato, 45, of Swarthmore, one of the plaintiffs. "I'm so glad that the young folks out there can know, 'You find the person that you're meant to be with and be in love with, and you celebrate openly and proudly and now legally in the state of Pennsylvania.' "

Throughout the rally, supporters broke into chants of "No appeal!" They emphasized that although it was a day of celebration, the fight for marriage equality was not over.

Rabbi Beth Kalisch of Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne closed the ceremony with a Jewish wedding tradition: She stepped on a glass, saying it symbolized that a marriage is official and cannot be unbroken.

After counting down from three, the crowd shouted: "Mazel tov, Pennsylvania!"

On Twitter: @PatriciaMadej

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