There were four same-sex couples lined up in the lobby of the City County Building shortly after 8 a.m. this morning -- nearly half an hour before the wills/orphans division of the county's Department of Court Records opened for business. And suffice it to say: None of them were there to pick up passports.
All four couples were there to seek marriage licenses in the wake of a ruling by federal Judge John E. Jones III legalizing same-sex marriage in the Pennsylvania. And more are certainly on their way: County spokeswoman Amie Downs told them that some 160 online marriage applications had been filed overnight.
The couples City Paper spoke with said Johns' ruling was both long expected and a total surprise.
"I was at the polls when I heard," said Karla Bolster, who has been with her partner Terry Cowden for 20 years. And after getting a text from her daughter about the decision, Cowden "proposed by text. ... I wrote back 'Yes.'"
That may not be the most romantic marriage proposal you'll ever hear, but same-sex couples have good reason to be pragmatic about Jones' ruling. As of this morning, it's unclear whether Gov. Tom Corbett will appeal the ruling or ask for it to be stayed; if he does so, it could close the window of opportunity for same-sex couples -- at least while further court action is pending.
"I'm hoping to be married before" that happens, said Bolster. "That's why we're here: to beat [Corbett] to the punch."
The two women are raising a 15-year-boy, in addition to an adult daughter. "My son wants the whole big wedding ceremony," Bolster said. "But I just want to make sure our kids and our family is protected."
"We've been together so long that the piece of paper is really not the point," Cowden agreed. It's the legal protections -- the ability for both women to consult with doctors about their son's health, for example -- that brought them from their Beechview home to Grant Street before heading off to work.
Karen Belsterling, who was waiting to apply for her license with her partner, Jules Hall, agreed the paperwork was unlikely to make them feel much differently about each other. The two met some 15 years ago, when they were both working as escorts at an abortion clinic. "It's about having everybody recognize [the relationship]," said Belsterling. "If you go to a party, you don't want to say, 'This is my partner,' because everybody thinks you're in business together, and there has to be a big explanation."
Belsterling acknowledges that no one knows what may happen next in the case. And both couples said they were unsure of how to seek a waiver from a three-day "waiting period," which is ordinarily required for marriage licenses.
"They aren't exactly hanging flags out telling people, 'We'll marry you,'" said Belsterling. "If this was Las Vegas, every chapel would be open." But no matter what Corbett does, she added, "We're going to ride it out."
Further back in line were Bill Rushlander and Rob Sauritch of Ross Township, who were hoping to get married after more than a decade together. (They met when Rushlander, a corporate "headhunter," interviewed Sauritch for potential placement in a new career. Sauritch didn't land a new position, Rushlander admits, "But I made the ultimate placement.")
Getting a license, Rushlander said, "puts closure to something that should have happened a long time ago."
Then the door to the county's marriage license office opened up ... and Rushlander, along with his partner of 13 years, walked on through.