Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, near Pittsburgh, on Monday officiated the first same-sex marriage in Allegheny County, despite a still-standing law banning such unions. “It’s an act of civil disobedience,” he said.
Tamara Davis and Nicola Cucinotta snap a photograph of their marriage license they obtained at a Montgomery County office despite a state law banning such unions, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Norristown, Pa. Five same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses in the suburban Philadelphia county that is defying a state ban on such unions. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)
A Pennsylvania law banning same-sex marriage is quickly losing its authority, as a growing number of state officials are choosing to openly defy the legislation rather than wait for the result of a federal court challenge.
Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock on Monday officiated the first same-sex marriage in Allegheny County, after the couple, John Kandray and Bill Gray, obtained a marriage license from another official-gone-rogue in Montgomery County, about four hours away. D. Bruce Hanes, the register of wills in Montgomery County, began issuing same-sex marriage licenses two weeks ago, and Kandray and Gray decided to seize the opportunity.
“It’s an act of civil disobedience,” said Fetterman on MSNBC Thursday. The message to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, he said, referencing President Reagan’s iconic challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, is: “Mr. Corbett, tear down this law.”
Pennsylvania is one of 35 states that currently prohibits gay couples from marrying. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and volunteer counsel from a Philadelphia-based law firm last month filed suit against the ban, arguing that it violated the fundamental right to marry, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Two days later, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she would not be defending the law, which she considered to be “wholly unconstitutional.”
Corbett’s office plans to defend the ban without Kane’s support, according to the Associated Press. Under his direction, the state Department of Health is set to file a brief by Aug. 12, requesting that Montgomery County be blocked from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
“The legality of it really doesn’t concern me,” said Fetterman, in reference to the fact that neither the state, nor the federal government currently recognizes the marriage he performed on Monday. “I think it’s the message that it sends. And I think Pennsylvania is at a place now where we need to remove this from our constitution.”
According to a May Franklin & Marshall College poll, 54% of Pennsylvanians support marriage equality, up from 33% in 2006. Fetterman said it’s a trend he’s observed as well, one that suggests his state may be next to join 13 others plus the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex couples to marry.
“I’ve received dozens and dozens of emails, and I’ve only received one that was a mildly negative one,” said Fetterman. “I do see Pennsylvania joining the rest of its northeastern states and bringing this home for everybody.”
Kandray and Gray, the couple who were married Monday at Fetterman’s home, have been together for more than a decade. Fetterman applauded them for deciding that eleven years was long enough to be “relegated to this second-class citizenship.”