Mayor John Street, once regarded as an enemy of the gay community for opposing same-sex partner benefits, is to preside over his first same-sex commitment ceremony this weekend.
Street said he was asked to officiate at the ceremony for Ryan Bunch and Micah Mahjoubian, a longtime colleague, on Saturday at City Hall.
"Micah is my friend. He has been in my campaign and has been in my administration for eight years," Street said. "I've come to respect him as a person, and if this is something he would like for me to do, then I'd like to do it for him."
About 125 guests are expected at the ceremony, which will have no legal weight since Pennsylvania prohibits gay marriage.
"It's not marriage. It's not real marriage. They can't be married," said Street, a Seventh-day Adventist. "It's not a religious ceremony. I mean, it's not really marriage."
As City Council president through most of the 1990s, Street strongly opposed legislation to provide benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. It eventually passed.
But many gay activists said that once Street became mayor, he reached out to the gay community. He formed a commission on sexual minorities, held a fundraiser for a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center and spoke at the dedication ceremony for a historical marker recognizing the work of gay and lesbian activists.
"To me, this is like a 'Nixon goes to China' thing," said Mahjoubian, the city's deputy secretary of external affairs. "He came in as a mayor that a lot of people in our community were skeptical of, and yet he is going out able to accomplish more than anyone thought."