NBC10 - Deanna Durante
Register of Wills D. Bruce Haines issued five same-sex marriage licenses in Montgomery County. NBC10's Deanna Durante finds out if this is officially a legal Pennsylvania marriage or not.
Alicia Terrizzi and Loreen Bloodgood didn't go to Montgomery County this morning expecting to be pioneers.
"We weren't really planning on being like the first people," Terrizzi, 45, said. "I thought there was gonna be a giant line here. We weren't planning on doing this yesterday, we had no idea we were even going to be able to, but we're obviously gonna take advantage of the opportunity we've been given."
Terrizzi and Bloodgood are one of at least five same-sex couples that applied for and received marriage licenses in Montgomery County today, despite a state law that bans the unions.
The developments come a day after Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes said he would grant licenses to gay couples because he wants to come down "on the right side of history and the law."
Hanes said he was unsure of what to expect this morning.
"I was driving in to work this morning and I thought we could have a line around the block or nobody could show up at all," Hanes said.
Shortly after receiving their marriage license, Terrizzi fought back tears.
"We've been a family for 18 years and we're no different than anybody else, and finally it's recognized. It doesn't make any difference to us. Nothing is going to change, but now we're gonna have a piece of paper so everyone else recognizes it," she said.
The couple, who have two sons, were married a short time later in a religious ceremony.
"I think we feel equal for once. We feel that we're the same as anyone else and its a great feeling. It's almost indescribable," Bloodgood said.
At least four other same-sex couples, including, Charlene Kurland and Ellen Toplin from Upper Dublin Township (pictured right) also received a marriage license today.
Montgomery County officials were prepared to issue the first same-sex marriage license in Pennsylvania history on Tuesday, but the process was halted due to a presumed conflict with a pending lawsuit seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
Hanes said the initial couple, two doctors in their 40s, contacted him last week about applying for a marriage license, and after advice from the county's solicitor, Michael Clarke, he was ready to approve the application.
He halted that approval yesterday at the request of the couple.
"Based upon the advice of Mr. Clarke, my own analysis of the law and mindful of the Attorney General’s belief that Pennsylvania’s marriage laws are unconstitutional, I decided to come down on the right side of history and the law, and was prepared to issue a license to the couple. However, the women for reasons of their own decided this morning not to seek the marriage license at this time," Hanes said in a press release.
"Had the couple sought the license today [Monday], I would have issued it and wished them all the freedom, independence, happiness and rights that our Commonwealth’s Constitution purports to grant to them."
The two women, whose names have not been released, are residents of Montgomery County. Their attorney, Michael Diamondstein released a statement on Tuesday, explaining why the couple backed away from the historic move:
"While Mr. Hanes and his office were ready and willing to issue the first same-sex marriage license in the history of Pennsylvania, my clients chose not to go forward because they were extremely concerned that the issuance of the marriage license would be challenged on procedural grounds without the Courts ever addressing the actual issue of marriage equality."
Two weeks ago, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's 17 year-old law that effectively bans same-sex marriages. Governor Tom Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane were both named in the suit. But on July 11, Kane announced that she could not defend the state's position because she supports same-sex marriages.
"We are hopeful that Governor Corbett and all of our elected officials on the county, state and federal levels will recognize that the love and commitment that they feel for their spouses is no different than the love and commitment that my clients feel for one another," Diamondstein's statement said.
Corbett has not said whether he will fight the lawsuit and he declined comment on Hanes' decision to grant same-sex marriage licenses in Montgomery County.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Molly Tack-Hooper, said ACLU representatives did speak with the couples’ attorney but did not directly advise the couple to withdraw their application.
"The ACLU was not involved in their decision. We were contacted by the attorney of a couple seeking a same-sex marriage license in Montgomery County, but we didn’t advise them one way or the other as to whether that is something they should do," Tack-Hooper said.
In other states with same-sex marriage bans, licenses issued by defiant local officials have been voided by courts.
"We know how it has played out in a few other states; we don’t know how it might turn out in Pennsylvania. Gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage licenses in Montgomery County should be aware that there might be uncertainty about the legal statuses of those marriages for a while because unfortunately in other states, governments have later invalidated the marriages," Tack-Hooper said.
In a 5-4 vote last month, the U.S. Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- the law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages -- unconstitutional. The finding sparked challenges to state laws banning same-sex marriage across the country.
Tack-Hooper says the ACLU’s suit seeks to challenge Pennsylvania's law, which currently defines marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman and does not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages from other states.
"One of the things we’re seeking in our suit is recognition of valid out-of-state marriages, as well as the legal right for same-sex couples to marry here in Pennsylvania. We’re waiting for the state to respond to our complaint and there is no deadline for their response."
County Commission Chairman Josh Shapiro says marriage equality will come to Pennsylvania. He says it's just a question of how long it will take.
The Rev. Craig Andrussier, a nondenominational minister licensed to perform weddings in Pennsylvania, said he married Terrizzi and Bloodgood today during in a brief ceremony in a park. Only the women and their sons were present, but they have a larger ceremony planned next week with family and friends, he said.
He called today's ceremony something "they can tell their grandchildren about."
"I feel great. I feel honored," Andrussier said.