The 'Wow' heard around the commonwealth

pCOUPLE22. Tim Sabol and Judd Flesch ( below & in next emails) -- in the aftermath of yesterday's ruling, their own marriage plans are changing happily and quickly ... even as they fly today to London to attend the Britain-based wedding of a gay Philadelphia couple they know
pCOUPLE22. Tim Sabol and Judd Flesch ( below & in next emails) -- in the aftermath of yesterday's ruling, their own marriage plans are changing happily and quickly ... even as they fly today to London to attend the Britain-based wedding of a gay Philadelphia couple they know
Posted: May 23, 2014

Moments after a federal judge cleared the way for gay marriage in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Tim Sabol was sitting with a financial-planning client.

Suddenly, his smartphone buzzed. And then it went off again.

And then, it just wouldn't pipe down.

"My phone was vibrating nonstop in my pocket," said Sabol, 32, from Center City, who has been dating his partner and fiance, Judd Flesch, for 11 years. "But I couldn't check it."

As he walked from a conference room, though, Sabol's assistant rushed up. "Did you hear the good news?" she called to him. "She said something like, 'Gay marriage is legal!'

"I was just like, 'Wow.' "

That "Wow" was heard in skyscrapers and ground-floor offices, across diners, and inside living rooms throughout Pennsylvania on Tuesday. It was also a moment that - for both Sabol and Flesch and many thousands of others - has huge ramifications for their immediate and long-term futures.

Sabol and Flesch have been planning a 150- to 200-person wedding for a year. They live in Washington Square, and, being wine aficionados, often repair to the Four Seasons for drinks.

On Monday, the Four Seasons phoned Sabol with good news about the pair having a wedding ceremony there in the fall. But both Sabol and Flesch, a 35-year-old pulmonary and critical care physician, loathed the thought of having to go elsewhere for the civil portion of their wedding - most likely New York or California.

"Symbolism is important to us," Sabol said Tuesday, shortly after patching in Flesch on the call. "We met in Philadelphia, and our relationship has grown here, and we would love to have a full ceremony here, in our hometown."

Of the law that defined marriage as among a man and woman, he said: "We never questioned the legitimacy of our relationship. But it feels wrong that your own state government doesn't recognize it."

It felt odd, he said, having to skip town to get married legally. "It felt transactional."

At the same time, both men pointed repeatedly to the host of legal benefits they will be able to enjoy after marrying in Pennsylvania.

Sabol, the financial planner, said, "Up until now, gay couples in Pennsylvania would receive no federal benefits. Think about Social Security for married people, or think about a pension. Your spouse is the only other person who can benefit from a pension after the other's death."

The only exception, said Philadelphia lawyer Angela Giampolo, was for couples who had legally married out of state but resided in Pennsylvania.

Flesch noted that he helps run a health program at the University of Pennsylvania medical school for gay and lesbian people. He said that Tuesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in Harrisburg appears to have lasting implications for the many thousands of gay couples who seek health care in Pennsylvania.

For one, he said, legalized marriage should allow many gays to receive health coverage through the workplace of a spouse. What's more, he said, many health systems permit only immediate family members to act as proxies for the ill, or enjoy the fullest of visitation rights.

After meeting for a celebratory dinner with friends and family on Tuesday evening, Sabol said the jubilant pair planned to board to a plane - for London. The trip had been planned for some time; gay Philadelphia friends - one of whom is British - had made the decision to wed in Britain.

Unlike Sabol and Flesch, who were hoping for change in Pennsylvania's state law, their friends had decided it was time to marry overseas.

"Seeing them go through that process of planning a wedding there - and now this roadblock in Pennsylvania is gone - I'm sure we'll have a lot to think about and plan on that plane ride," Sabol said.

Flesch added: "For me it's unbelievably important. This is a long-awaited recognition of the equality of our love and our relationship, and other relationships like ours."

jgrant@phillynews.com

@jasonbarrgrant

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