PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A suburban Philadelphia woman who tied the knot with her longtime partner Sunday with a county marriage license despite the commonwealth's ban on same-sex marriage said it was the day "that every committed couple waits for."
Dee Spagnuolo, 39, and Sasha Ballen, 38, were married at their Wynnewood home — with their three young children playing roles in the hastily arranged ceremony — after receiving a license from officials in Montgomery County.
"We're excited — we've been waiting for this day for a very long time," said Spagnuolo by phone as she sat in her kitchen with a friend doing her hair for the ceremony.
Spagnuolo said she and Ballen met 21 years ago in their first days at Bowdoin College and have been together for the last 17 years. They decided to get married on the spur of the moment after hearing news reports that licenses were being granted.
"It wasn't planned, it wasn't political — it was purely out of love," she said. "This is a day that every committed couple waits for."
She said, however, that she was grateful to the local officials who granted the license "for deciding that they wanted and needed to be on the right side of history."
The licenses issued Wednesday in Montgomery County are believed to be the first to same-sex couples in Pennsylvania, the only northeastern state without same-sex marriages or civil unions. A 1996 Pennsylvania law defines marriage as a civil contract in which a man and a woman take each other as husband and wife, and it says same-sex marriages, even ones entered legally elsewhere, are void in Pennsylvania.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit this month asking a federal judge to overturn the law. But before resolution of the suit, officials in the affluent and increasingly Democratic county signaled that they would grant same-sex licenses.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman, a Republican, said Wednesday evening that a same-sex marriage license isn't legally valid in Pennsylvania, but she said it's not her place to intervene. Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane, though, has said that she will not defend the ban, leaving any defense to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's office. A spokesman for Corbett said county office-holders are required to uphold the law but did not say if the governor would challenge the marriages.
In other states with same-sex marriage bans, licenses issued by defiant local officials have been voided by courts.
Spagnuolo cited polls indicating a steady decline in the percentage of Pennsylvania residents opposing gay marriage, and she believes acceptance has already reached a "tipping point."
"I think we, as a society, will look back at this period of time and sort of ask ourselves 'What was the issue here?' — if we're not already doing that," she said.
Spagnuolo said she believes that more and more couples coming forward to get married has helped reduce opposition as people see how ordinary they are.
"We're a pretty regular family; we live behind a white picket fence. We drive a minivan," she said. "We spend Saturdays at T-ball and gymnastics classes. There's really nothing too exciting going on here."
Another couple, Alicia Terrizzi and Loreen Bloodgood of Pottstown, married immediately after receiving a license from the county last week, exchanging vows in a park before a minister and their two young sons.