The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 20, 2014

'Love wins' for gay couples in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG — Mike Bartholomew and his longtime partner, Mike Escobar, visited the Northumberland County Courthouse in Sunbury over the years and joked that they were looking for a marriage license.

 Now, they can actually get one.

Bartholomew and Escobar, who've been partners for 24 years, joined about 100 other people at a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon to celebrate U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III's decision striking down Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage.

Bartholomew, who grew up in Sunbury, said they'd refused to travel to another state to get married, telling themselves "it didn't matter."

Escobar agreed that a marriage license is simply "a piece of paper." The couple, who live in Elizabethtown, are committed to each other with or without it, he said.

Still, said Escobar, Tuesday’s ruling was important because it shows that the government recognizes that he and Bartholomew have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

“I finally feel like an American,” said Escobar. “I felt unequal.”

Bartholomew said he's glad Pennsylvania is the 19th state in which same-sex marriages are legal. “I’m just glad that we weren’t the 50th state to do it,” he said.

It was a sentiment shared by Paul Whitman and Tom Kinser, who also attended the rally to celebrate.

Whitman and Kinser met at church; they belong to the Metropolitan Community Church of the Spirit in Harrisburg, a congregation created by and for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

They’ve lived together for two years, and Kinser has proposed, but they didn’t want to get a marriage license in a state where they don’t live.

Whitman said he believes it’s appropriate that the state where the Declaration of Independence was drafted to include the phrase “all men are created equal,” has recognized that same-sex couples should be treated equally.

Pennsylvania’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, was passed by the state Legislature in 1996.

Ted Martin, executive director Equality PA, one of the organizations that joined the ACLU in challenging the Pennsylvania ban, said Tuesday's victory is important but challenges remain for homosexual couples.

“You can still be fired for putting your wedding pictures on your desk at work,” he told the crowd at the Capitol.

The token word of caution didn’t dampen the celebratory atmosphere.

Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania, started the rally with: “We won! Love wins!”

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