Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania celebrate big win for marriage in the Keystone State

On May 20, 2014 U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III, a federal judge in Pennsylvania, ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, striking down the state’s discriminatory constitutional amendment that bans same-sex couples from marriage. The victory was in Whitewood v. Wolf, the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union last fall. Read more about the win here.

It's been an amazing few months for marriage - and across the country, same-sex couples are rejoicing in the reality that it's time for marriage nationwide. The situation is no different in Pennsylvania, where gay and lesbian couples are sharing their stories and celebrating the big win. 

Meet just a few of the amazing couples celebrating this huge step forward for marriage in the Keystone State!

Rue Landau & Kerry Smith • Philadelphia

Just minutes after Judge Jones issued his ruling today, some same-sex couples like Rue and Kerry had applied for marriage licenses! (Photo by the ACLU)

Steve Seminilli & Joseph Parisi • Philadelphia

"When we found out that there was going to be a ruling in the marriage case today, we had conversation last night about whether to get a license if we won," Joseph said the day that the freedom to marry came to Pennsylvania. He explained, "The one question everyone asks is 'Where are you getting married?' and we've always wanted to be able to say Philadelphia. We've always wanted to get married where we live - to be no different than anybody else. So when we saw the ruling today, it wasn't a hard decision. We wanted to be part of this moment."

Steve and Joseph say that they have been carefully watching the ACLU's case since it was filed last summer. They've been living in Pennsylvania for more than 5 years, and it's where they see themselves raising a family.

The men are both people of faith - and they're excited to say "I do" in front of all of their family members and friends in a religious ceremony at an Episcopal Church in New York. But for now, they're thrilled to have seen such a landmark ruling come down in the state where they live - and they're hopeful that it stands.

Deb & Susan Whitewood • Bridgeville

As the named plaintiffs in the case that brought the freedom to marry to Pennsylvania, Deb and Susan are standing proud today with their family of three children, a dog, and two cats in Bridgeville. 

Deb and Susan's family includes their two daughters, 16-year-old Abbey and 15-year-old Katie and their 2-year-old son, Landon, whom they adopted from the foster care system in November 2012. Deb and Susan’s lives are centered around their children — and there’s nothing more important to them then spending time together as a family and being active in their children’s school life is important to Deb and Susan. Deb is the on the executive board of the band boosters, secretary for the volleyball boosters, and all-around “go to person” when any of the teachers need something at school. Susan has coached the girls’ volleyball and softball teams.

"Abbey and Katie grew up assuming Susan and I were married," Deb explained. "As they got older and came to learn that we were not allowed to marry in Pennsylvania, both girls felt that this was unfair to the whole family. They know we are a family and want to be legally recognized as one. The girls feel their family should have the same protections and respect as other families."

Today, Deb and Susan are proud to know that because they took a stand for the freedom to marry in Pennsylvania, their kids will finally know that they are just as respected as all other PA families. 

Read Deb and Susan's full story at Why Marriage Matters Pennsylvania.

Michael & Glenn Wascovich • York

June 26, 2013 marked the first day that Glenn and Michael could at last be legally married and ensure that it had legal significance: That was the day that the United States Supreme Court struck down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, clearing the way for legally married same-sex couples to have their marriages respected by the federal government for the first time. Although Glenn and Michael live in York, Pennsylvania, they were able to drive to a state where same-sex couples can marry - Maryland - and get a marriage license.

"We waited to marry for seven years," Glenn explained. "And those seven years of waiting were filled with love, joy, and even rocky roads and typical couple's trials. We have always known that we wanted to get married - it was just a matter of when we could do it."

On June 26, Glenn and Michael knew that their lives could dramatically change depending on what the Supreme Court ruled.

"I will never forget refreshing my phone every two seconds and going between Twitter and Facebook trying to see who had what news first," Glenn said. "When the results came in, I froze. Tears filled my eyes. I grabbed the phone to call Mike. I couldn't even speak clearly."

Glenn and Michael are proud Pennsylvanians - they were born and raised in the state, went to college in the state, and now continue to live there. And today, they're celebrating Judge Jones' historic ruling declaring that they deserve the protections of marriage just as much as any other Pennsylvania family. 

Read Glenn and Michael's full story at Freedom to Marry.

Gail Lloyd & Angela Gillem • Philadelphia

Gail and Angela have laid roots in Philadelphia, and bought their house together 15 years ago - It was a fixer-upper, and they both invested money and time to renovating the property.

“After 17 years together, we both feel so lucky to have found one another,” Gail said. “We are both amazed that we can’t think of anyone else that we enjoy spending time with more than each other.”

Angela, 60, is a clinical psychologist and professor at Arcadia University, and Gail, 55, is a filmmaker and visual artist who graduated from Temple University’s Film and Media Arts Program. They practice Buddhism and meditation together.

Although Angela and Gail are registered domestic partners in Philadelphia, they have long awaited the day they are recognized as a married couple in the state they call home. This week, at last, they see that future in sight. “We love each other," Angela said. "We want the chance to stand up and have our family and community witness us make the fullest commitment two people can make to one another."

Read Gail and Angela's full story at Why Marriage Matters Pennsylvania.

Dara Raspberry & Helena Miller • Philadelphia

Helena and Dara, who moved to Pennsylvania several years ago to be closer to their family members, saw their dream of beginning their own family come true on May 28, 2013, when Helena gave birth to their daughter, Zivah. 

“When Zivah was born, it was the most incredible day of our lives. We love her so much,” Dara said. “We had to complete the process for me to become Zivah’s second legal parent, and it was very time consuming and costly. During this time Zivah, only had one legally recognized parent. If our marriage were recognized in Pennsylvania, I would have automatically been recognized as one of her legal parents. Not having our daughter fully protected is very upsetting.” 

Now, Dara and Helena are hoping that Judge Jones' marriage ruling becomes final once and for all in Pennsylvania and that they can receive the respect for their marriage that they deserve. 

“It is important to us that our marriage be recognized in Pennsylvania, not only because of the concrete protections it would provide to us and our daughter, but also because we feel that being treated as an unmarried couple disrespects the commitment we have made to one another and devalues our family,” Helena said. “We hope that our marriage will be recognized in Pennsylvania before our baby is old enough to be aware that the state does not consider her family deserving of the same respect afforded to other families.”

Read Dara and Helena's full story at Why Marriage Matters PA

Ed Hill & David Palmer • Wilkes-Barre

Born and bred Pennsylvanians, Ed, 67, grew up near Pittsburgh and David, 65, grew up outside of Wilkes-Barre in Trucksville. They’ve been together for almost 25 years and are planning a big party to celebrate their silver anniversary soon.

Ed is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who served in Vietnam and, after that, spent most of his career at the Department of Veterans Affairs. David was director of exhibitions at a museum. When Ed was offered early retirement in 1996, they opened a bed and breakfast in Bangor. The couple retired “for real” five years ago.

“We have been a family for 25 years, and loved and support each other through ever endeavor,” David said. “We knew we wanted to spend our lives together, so we decided to commit ourselves to one another in front of our friends and family.”

Ed and David got married on May 10, 2013 in Maine. Ed’s 90-year-old aunt was the flower girl. They're thrilled that today - just over one year after their wedding anniversary - they can be legally respected in the state that they love. 

Read Ed and David's full story at Why Marriage Matters PA.

Dawn Plummer & Diana Polson • Pittsburgh

As a Pennsylvania native, Dawn wanted the couple to establish roots in her home state so when she and her partner Diana began seriously dating 16 years ago, they moved to Pittsburgh, where they are now raising their 5-year-old son Elijah and their baby boy, Jude. 

Last year, Dawn and Diana spoke out about their story with Why Marriage Matters Pennsylvania. They explained that while they had completed a second parent adoption for Elijah, they needed to save up enough money to do the same for Jude.

“We feel vulnerable because if anything were to happen to me, Jude has no legal tie to Dawn,” Diana said at the time. “If we were legally married in Pennsylvania, this would not be the case because both spouses would be recognized as parents from the moment of birth. This is one of many complications we have to endure since we are not able to marry in the state.”

Today is an exciting day for the whole family: In the past few months, Elijah has begun to understand what marriage is and why it matters - and Dawn and Diana are thrilled to finally have the opportunity to say that they are just as married as any other PA family. "It was so complicated to try to explain to Elijah why we can’t do this basic thing other families get to do,”"Dawn said. "All he knows is that we love each other and are a family. That should be all that matters."

Read Dawn and Diana's Full story at Why Marriage Matters PA.