Some synagogues in the Philadelphia area already hold same-sex weddings, but couples have had to travel elsewhere to legally marry.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s decision to strike down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage, that all changes for people like Rita Pompey and Debbie Gordon. The couple immediately announced new plans for their August wedding. Rather than get married in New Jersey — one of four neighboring states in which same-sex marriage was already legal — they plan to hold the ceremony at Temple Sholom in Broomall.
“I actually shed a tear,” said Pompey, 44, who lives with Gordon, 48, and their 9-year-old daughter, Ellie, in Delaware County.
“Part of it was pride and part of it was gratitude to the individuals, couples and families that have put themselves in front of the courts and have made it possible for our family to see the day where we can stand in front of our community and commit to one another legally.”
Pompey and Gordon met 18 years ago in the summer of 1996, introduced via a friend from their time as undergraduates at West Chester University. That fall, then-Gov. Tom Ridge signed the bill into law banning same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
The significance of the number of years they have been together — 18, which in Hebrew means life — has not been lost on the couple.
Gordon said they finally decided to get married in part because they have aging parents. “Rita’s father, who is 80 years old, all he wants to do is be there to walk with her down the aisle and be part of the service,” said Gordon.
A number of rabbis interviewed said they did not expect the ruling to change other rabbis’ minds on officiating and recognizing same-sex marriages.
“I still think that the traditional part of our world has other concerns. They’re not waiting for the courts; they’re waiting for the rabbis,” said Rabbi Peter Rigler of Temple Sholom, who has been actively involved in lobbying for same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. His officiation at the wedding of Pompey and Gordon will be his first same-sex marriage.
When asked last year about proposed legislation in Harrisburg to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood said he supported gay marriage but declined to say whether he would officiate at a same-sex couple’s wedding.
In an interview after the ruling this week, he said, “If someone asked and they were members of my community, I would be happy to do it for them.”
“I haven’t always felt this way,” he said. “I think the world has changed. I think it’s really a great thing that people have the right to define the kind of loving relationship that they want to be in.”
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, who held a commitment ceremony in Philadelphia in 1998 and was legally married to her partner 10 years later in California, drove down to City Hall after the ruling to celebrate as same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses. She said she has officiated over dozens of same-sex weddings but the majority of them were not legally binding.
"Now I hope to be part of many more legal ceremonies in my home state," said Elwell, who recently retired as a rabbinic director with Union for Reform Judaism.
In the car with Elwell was Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, director of multifaith studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Her daughter and son-in-law married this past weekend and had asked guests to donate to efforts for marriage equality in Pennsylvania.
"They were fortunate that they were able to be married in the state, and they felt sorry that they were unable to share in the joy with gay couples," said Kreimer.
Her husband, Seth Kreimer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, was part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs and said Tuesday that he hoped Corbett would decline to appeal the case.
“I hope he doesn’t waste more of the state’s money on this,” said Kreimer. “I think it’s pretty clear which way things are going; I think he could save a lot of angst and a lot of money by simply acknowledging that Pennsylvania has joined the rest of the Northeast in recognizing marriage equality.”
Corbett announced on Wednesday that he would not be appealing.