‘It was so surreal:’ Pa. couples celebrate gay marriage ban lift

Thousands celebrated at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon after a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. Credit: Christina Paciolla/METRO
Thousands celebrated at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon after a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. Credit: Christina Paciolla/METRO

When Noelle Foizen woke up Tuesday morning, she said she didn’t know she and her partner would be applying for a marriage license.

But around 3:45 p.m., Foizen and Carolyn M. Caton got one. And after the mandatory three-day waiting period, the couple of 13 years will officially marry.

“It was so surreal,” Foizen said of the moment she found out that a federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s gay marriage ban. She left work early, picked up her partner and headed down to City Hall.

“I was hopeful but guarded because … it’s Pennsylvania,” the Philadelphia woman said with a laugh. “But it was just amazing. We had been talking about getting married. But we definitely didn’t wake up today thinking we’d get our marriage license.”

Foizen and Caton, standing closely together, joined hundreds of other gay rights supporters in Center City late Tuesday afternoon celebrating what all there called a “victory.”

Happy tears, congratulatory hugs and chants echoed throughout the north side of City Hall.

Alexandra Campbell, 19, of Harrisburg, celebrated at City Hall on Tuesday after a federal court judge ruled that Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. "I'm celebrating gay rights and the freedom of equal rights," Campbell said. "No matter what." Credit: Christina Paciolla/METRO
Alexandra Campbell, 19, of Harrisburg, celebrated at City Hall on Tuesday after a federal court judge ruled that Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. “I’m celebrating gay rights and the freedom of equal rights,” Campbell said. “No matter what.” Credit: Christina Paciolla/METRO

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania hosted the rally after U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III ruled that Pennsylvania’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. The opinion came down less than a year after a federal lawsuit had been filed last July on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians who want to marry or want the commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages.

“By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth,” Jones said.

Pennsylvania now becomes the 19th state where gay marriage is allowed.

Rue Landau, the executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, and her partner Kerry Smith, who are parents of a six-year-old, were the first in Pennsylvania to get their marriage license. They will also be the first to officially marry in Philadelphia.

The office in City Hall that manages marriage licenses announced extended hours. It will be open today from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A landmark decision

U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III compared Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage to school segregation laws overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

“We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” he wrote.

Not all celebrated

The National Organization for Marriage, which argues marriage is the union of a man and a woman, called the ruling “brazen and unjust.”

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in a statement said that “marriage is more than a private arrangement between two people.”

He called the court decision “a mistake with long-term, negative consequences.”

The state has 30 days to decide whether to appeal.



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