Pa. couples search for equality in Centre County
Seventeen U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage, but Pennsylvania has yet to jump on board, with a pending ACLU case that might just change things. Centre County has proven to be a progressive leader in the state, and several accomplishments toward marriage equality have been made in the area.
On August 19, 2013, Joseph Davis, now Joseph Scalzo, 50, and Gregory Scalzo, 47, from Bushkill, Pa., were married in State College in the home of Mayor Elizabeth Goreham. They were married by Church of the Brethren pastor Ken Kline Smeltzer, who was later fired from his church in Burnham, Pa., for going against the church’s stance on same-sex marriage.
The Scalzo wedding took place soon after Goreham told a reporter that she would be happy to officiate at a wedding for a same-sex couple as long as they had a marriage license.
Photo by JACK MATSON // Special to VOICES
Gregory (left) and Joseph Scalzo (right) after their wedding ceremony at Mayor Elizabeth Goreham’s home.
Loathe to violate her oath of office, Goreham found Smeltzer, who was willing to perform the ceremony after she had been contacted by Joseph Scalzo. According to Scalzo, he immediately went to Montgomery County to get a marriage license after hearing back from Goreham.
Photo courtesy Elizabeth Goreham // Special to VOICES
State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham has been one of the leading local proponents of marriage equality.
“It [the ceremony] was everything I thought it would be and more,” Scalzo said.
Soon after the ceremony, Scalzo faced a few problems in terms of changing his last name and acquiring benefits that heterosexual married couples are entitled to.
Fixing his social security card was easy. Scalzo said a new social security card was issued promptly, with his name properly changed. However, Penn DOT would not allow him to change his last name on his driver’s license because same-sex marriages are not legal in the state of Pennsylvania.
Another problem Scalzo encountered was denial of change in name on his voter registration due to same-sex marriage not being legal in the state. Also, his copy of his marriage certificate he sent in was never returned. Luckily, four copies of the marriage license were made, but the act was hateful since it could have been the only copy, Scalzo said. The only benefit Scalzo has thus far is the ability to get on Gregory’s health insurance.
It is Scalzo’s hope that everything does work out in favor of marriage equality in Pennsylvania. He has seen other states gain marriage equality through judges very quickly and does not understand why it has been so hard for Pennsylvania to do the same.
According to Goreham, public opinion has swung overwhelming in favor of marriage equality in recent years. When Goreham was campaigning for re-election last fall, she spoke to an attorney who helped gay couples adopt, and the attorney said she believed the Pennsylvania law that bans same-sex marriage would be overturned within the following two years.
“Over the last week, I was in Seattle, Washington visiting an aunt and uncle who are in their 90s - Republicans, conservative,” Goreham said.
“And she told me how much she thinks how important marriage equality is. And why? Because people are discovering that people in their own family, who have just said nothing, have been gay for years, and the family never knew.”
Goreham said that while Pennsylvania is progressive in several ways, it is also still very conservative when it comes to family values. She believes many communities have lived by the same rules for centuries and thus do not feel or understand the need for change.
In State College, specifically, people are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality, Goreham said. Most constituents Goreham has spoken to have voiced their support for legalizing same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
According to Goreham, State College has a history of being a leader in regard to progressive actions. One example is that of State College Borough’s domestic partner registry, which was created in 2011.
Many couples, both same-sex and heterosexual, were inspired to take advantage of this registry when it first came out, but not so much in recent years since they can now go to a neighboring state to get married, according to Goreham. She said she knows of a few couples who are just waiting until same-sex marriage is legalized in Pennsylvania.
Under the ordinance of domestic partner registry, unmarried couples can document their relationship to create public recognition of their partnership. The two individuals need to sign, have two witnesses sign, and have a notary notarize their declaration of domestic partnership in order to make their commitment official, according to the ordinance.
Should marriage licenses for same-sex couples be issued again in the state, Goreham said that another pastor has approached her and would be willing to officiate. She said that she would be happy to host until she is able to officiate herself.
Centre County also has a very active Pennsylvania National Organization for Women, Inc. chapter, especially when it comes to equal rights.
According to Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president emerita of PA NOW and National NOW board member, PA NOW has written several letters to Pennsylvania and national legislature in support of marriage equality, and the organization has participated in marriage equality rallies. PA NOW has also helped write State College’s anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit gender and sexual orientation discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment.
Five cases concerning marriage equality are currently in the Pennsylvania court system, according to Tosti-Vasey. Four of those cases are pending, while one has been thrown out.
The big case coming up is Whitewood v. Wolf, an ACLU case that will be going to trial on June 9 in Harrisburg, Tosti-Vasey said. The case came about from a federal lawsuit filed on July 9, 2013, on behalf of 23 Pennsylvanians seeking the right to marry in Pennsylvania.
“As with Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia, as Earl Warren said, it’s a right that should not be denied,” Tosti-Vasey said.
“You love who you love, and the state should have no say in the marriage of the adult that you love. Religions can make their own decisions based on their premises/religious prelates, but that should not dictate the state’s [decision].”
Goreham said she hopes the Pennsylvania law banning same-sex couples from getting married is overturned when the ACLU case goes to court. She believes it is one area of civil rights that has not received appropriate attention.
Joseph Scalzo remains optimistic as well, especially when it comes to getting the benefits, insurance and pensions that heterosexual married couples already have.
“I just hope that same-sex couples get marriage equality in every sense of the word,” Scalzo said.
“I mean, as far as us being able to get married with no problem, for our marriages to be recognized and respected.” ■
By EMMA STUCK