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Advocates pursue varying strategies to bring same-sex marriage to Pa.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
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Matt Rourke, APBob, left, and Bill Sullivan take off their wedding rings before entering the marriage license bureau at City Hall, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Philadelphia. The Sullivans were denied a marriage license along with an effort have their out-of-state marriage recognized.

Matt Rourke, AP
Bob, left, and Bill Sullivan take off their wedding rings before entering the marriage license bureau at City Hall, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Philadelphia. The Sullivans were denied a marriage license along with an effort have their out-of-state marriage recognized.

PHILADELPHIA — Marriage bureau officials in Philadelphia expressed their support Tuesday for same-sex couples, but said they cannot grant them marriage licenses until the law changes in Pennsylvania.

The comments come as advocates pursue legal strategies to bring same-sex marriage to the state. Separate lawsuits are moving through state and federal courts, one filed by same-sex couples; the other by a rogue county official who briefly issued same-sex licenses.

Meanwhile, Bob and Bill Sullivan of South Philadelphia have found themselves in legal limbo since moving back to Philadelphia so tried another tack. The couple went to City Hall on Tuesday to ask officials to recognize their marriage from 2009 in Vermont, so they can access spousal benefits, such as health insurance and medical decision-making.

On a more mundane level, Bill Sullivan needs a valid ID card. Formerly Bill Slimback, he took his husband’s last name after their marriage. The federal government accepts the marriage license as a name change, but Pennsylvania does not. So he’s run into roadblocks each time he tries to get a Pennsylvania driver’s license or valid ID card. Without them, he can’t vote.

Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci told the Sullivans he is sympathetic, but must follow the law and await the court rulings. A few same-sex couples show up each month to make similar appeals, officials said.

“You’re always surprised when you hear something that doesn’t make sense. It’s not American. It’s not what America was founded on,” said Bob Sullivan, 46, who works in the banking industry.

The couples’ City Hall visit had been planned for Valentine’s Day, when Marriage Equality USA sponsored similar protests around the country, but a snowstorm closed city offices in Philadelphia.

The Tuesday visit came after a federal judge in Virginia this month overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban, and another in Kentucky ordered the state to recognize out-of-state licenses.

In Pennsylvania, an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the state ban, filed on behalf of several same-sex couples and their children, is scheduled for a federal court trial in June.

The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, has struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, but has not issued a definitive ruling on same-sex marriage.

“The recent rulings are exciting,” Bob Sullivan said. “I believe the reason the laws aren’t changing here is because of complacency.”

That complacency is costly to taxpayers, he said, noting that the public is on the hook for his husband’s disability and medical coverage, since Bill isn’t covered by his work plan. The tab runs thousands of dollars a month, he said.

ACLU lawyer Mary Catherine Roper called the public support for gay marriage and the recent court rulings encouraging, but said they won’t help change the law in Pennsylvania.

“It will take either a major change (by lawmakers) in Harrisburg, which we don’t have any particular reason to expect, or it will take one of these court cases getting done,” Roper said.

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