On May 20, U. S. District Court Judge John Jones 3d overturned Pennsylvania’s 1996 ban on same-sex marriage — prompting couples across the state to flock to city halls for marriage licenses.
Eighteen couples applied for licenses last Tuesday afternoon at Philadelphia City Hall and began marrying Friday, after the three-day waiting period.
As of presstime, 129 same-sex couples had applied for marriage licenses in Philadelphia. The Register of Wills office did not have final numbers of how many couples had completed and filed their licenses.
Just after midnight May 23, the first same-sex couple in Philadelphia married on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and later that day, eight couples married in the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall. On Saturday, 17 couples were married at City Hall, including some by Mayor Michael Nutter.
Two floors up Friday morning, a handful of same-sex couples picked up licenses in the Register of Wills office, a day that was a long time coming for many of them.
Maureen Haddow and Elke Muller have been together for 22 years; they met through a personal ad and had their first date at former lesbian bar Hepburn’s.
Muller said she was overjoyed by the long-overdue ruling.
After leaving the register’s office, marriage license in hands, the couple joked that their first fight as a licensed couple was about who to pick as an officiant.
Haddow said the couple originally planned to go to New York to get married because they saw marriage equality in Pennsylvania as a long shot.
“I had to pay a friend a dollar because I said we would never have marriage equality in Pennsylvania and she said, ‘You will eventually,’” Haddow said. “We’ve been together for 22 years and we’re shocked.”
Muller and Haddow are planning a low-key ceremony within the next 10 days.
The couple said they’re relieved to be able to share in all the benefits allotted to heterosexual couples.
“We have the same laws as everyone else to protect us now,” Haddow said.
Kristin Mozzachio and Cinquetta Rhodes had similar plans, ready to travel to New York to get legally married.
“We’re not from New York, so that is not the same as when our parents got married and they did it here,” Rhodes said. “Being born and raised in Pennsylvania and to be able to get married here, it is groundbreaking.”
Mozzachio and Rhodes have been together for 12 years.
Mozzachio said she cried upon hearing last week’s news, and Rhodes added she began receiving text messages from friends, congratulating them on the ruling.
“It was like, this really is happening,” she said. “Pennsylvania is a hard state but for them to say that everyone is equal is great. If you love the person, you love the person.”
Mozzachio said she would have loved to have gotten married right away, but Rhodes was determined to give her soon-to-be-bride a special ceremony.
“I think every woman deserves a special day, whether it is giant or small,” she said. “To have that intimate crowd of people who love you the most, and also accept you the way that you are, it seals the deal.”
Ardmore residents Jen Melnyk and Paula Estornell had a bit of a different experience than some other couples who arrived at City Hall.
Melnyk and Estornell were married in 2009 in Massachusetts and were unsure what, if anything, they needed to do to ensure their out-of-state marriage would be recognized in Pennsylvania. It turned out that their visit to the register’s office was brief, as they were told their license would be automatically recognized per Jones’ ruling, which stipulated that “already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such.”
The couple has been together for 10 years. The two were caught off guard with the ruling.
“I though I’d be old and have more gray hair,” Melnyk joked.
“I was surprised it happened here, which is why we went to Massachusetts,” Estornell said.
The couple plans to have a ceremony at their church.
The excitement was just as palpable elsewhere in City Hall, as a stream of judges filed into the Mayor’s Reception Room for the historic occasion.
The mayor’s chief of staff welcomed the couples’ friends and family and the sea of press who turned out, and Common Pleas President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper announced and presented each couple before they were paired with an officiating judge, who performed the ceremonies in separate corners of the room.
“This is such a historic event,” Woods-Skipper told PGN before the weddings. “It really emphasizes the meaning of access. No matter what your individual beliefs may be, a ruling has come down and we have to abide by that ruling. I’m here to support that effort, and I’m happy to be here.”
Judge Dan Anders, the city’s first openly gay male judge, helped organize the group-wedding effort, which was similar to weddings held at City Hall on Valentine’s Day.
“Same-sex weddings are like any other weddings where two people are committed to each other and who want to formally have recognition for that commitment,” he said. “In a lot of ways they’re just like any other weddings, but obviously this is very different today since this is the first time we’re doing this here where these couples will be officially recognized.”
Throughout the weekend, Anders also officiated at a wedding at Love Park and on a rooftop deck in South Philadelphia.
At City Hall, Anders married Patrick Egan and David LaFontaine, together since 1998. The two were joined in 2002 at Green Street Monthly Meeting of Friends.
“It was nice when my Quaker meeting said we were equal and it is good when the government said so too,” LaFontaine said. “Equality feels good, it does.” The pair said they applied for their license immediately on Tuesday, afraid of an appeal. But LaFontaine said he knew it was only a matter of time before marriage equality came to the Keystone State. “I predicted a year ago that it would be here in two years,” he said. “I was more optimistic than most people.” Also optimistic was Daniel Panichelli. He married his partner of eight years, Leon Carpenter, at City Hall. “I knew it was coming for a while but did not foresee it coming as quickly as it did,” Panichelli said.
The couple met while both were employed at Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary.
Also fearing an appeal, the couple rushed to City Hall last Tuesday. Carpenter said the license process was seamless.
“It went surprisingly smooth,” he said. “Everyone at the Register of Wills office was supportive.”
Carpenter said the ruling helped validate the work of activists fighting for equality.
“I used to live down South and have had to deal with prejudices,” he said. “You have so many people who fought so hard for this. Activists kept pressing on, and we knew justice would be achieved.”