Gay couple’s out-of-state marriage license denied in City Hall

bob and bill sullivan
Bob (left) and Bill Sullivan outside the office of licenses in City Hall Tuesday morning. Credit: Sam Newhouse/Metro

A gay couple’s attempt to have their marriage legally recognized in their hometown was denied today by a city official.

Philadelphia natives Bob and Bill Sullivan had to leave their city to get a legal marriage out-of-state, becoming the first  same-sex couple to be legally married in the state of Vermont in 2009.

But Bob, 46, of Northeast Philadelphia, and Bill, 42, of South Philadelphia, are not considered wed in their home city — which is also where Bob and Bill met 22 years ago at a Pridefest party on Penn’s Landing.

They want that to change and hope elected officials will step in to support legalizing same sex marriage in Philadelphia.

“I won’t drink out of a separate water fountain,” Bob said. “I’m not interested in a civil union.”

On Tuesday morning they brought their Vermont marriage license to the city clerk’s office in City Hall. There, the register of wills met with them and explained that the city could not legally issue them a marriage license.

Bob and Bill said that not having their marriage recognized has caused difficulties in terms of getting a driver’s license for Bill, who changed his last name to Bob’s, and in terms of Bob helping Bill get medical attention.

But both men are accustomed to standing up for their rights.

Bill said that as a child in South Philadelphia, he was outed as a gay man at a very young age. From age 10 to 15, he said, he couldn’t walk down a street without fearing that he might be attacked by kids hiding behind a corner.

On his sister’s wedding day when he was a teenager, another kid hit him in the head with a bat, he said.

“My family had had enough. The entire party went out looking out for this kid,” Bill said. “My father told his father, ‘This has to stop.’”

“That gave me the courage to stand up for every gay man, gay lesbian, or any downtrodden [person],” Bill said.

Bob said that as a gay man he has experienced employment discrimination. He was told he would not get jobs, never directly because he was gay, but always for some vague reason, he said.

Bob’s response was to be more open about his life.

“What really changes people’s hearts and minds is opening up your lives and showing them who you are,” Bob said. “Talking about myself, my spouse, our life. This idea that gay people are born to be single has to stop.”

Bob acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriages, and other same sex couples are suing the state in Philadelphia to recognize their marriages.

But he said “being from Philadelphia and knowing Philadelphia,” it’s more important to him that gay marriage is recognized as legitimate “through the will of the people.”

“I would love it if our elected officials could actually do their job and do what we elected them for,” Bob said.

Bob said that he grew up in a non-traditional family in Northeast Philly, and said he doesn’t believe in arguments that marriage should be between only a man and a woman.

“American marriage, the way it functions, has nothing to do with biology,” Bob said “It’s about concocted relationships that we have … it’s the people we share our lives with. It’s not about procreation, you can’t tell me that. Tell it to the woman that adopted my mother. Or talk to my father if you could find him.”

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