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Pa. same-sex couples apply to marry, expect denial

| Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 11:57 p.m.

Holding tight to a bouquet of yellow roses and each other's arms, Tamala and Colleen Arbaczewski asked to apply for a marriage license on Friday in the Allegheny County Office of Court Records.

As expected, the Findlay couple married in Massachusetts in October was denied.

“We'll be back,” said Colleen Arbaczewski, 53. “I will do it again and again and again.”

The women were among same-sex couples in Allegheny and Fayette counties who marked Valentine's Day by attempting to apply for marriage licenses, knowing they would be denied, as part of the “License Our Love” event coordinated by Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania and Marriage Equality USA.

Pennsylvania law prohibits same-sex marriages, though legal experts predict that law soon will be overturned.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a federal ban on gay marriages but left some legal issues unresolved. Since then, gay marriage has become “the most rapidly evolving civil rights issue in the nation's history,” said Duquesne University Law School professor Wes Oliver.

Since December, federal court rulings have overturned bans in Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky and this week in Norfolk, where U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen ruled the Virginia statute violated people's equal protection under the law granted by the U.S. Constitution.

In Pennsylvania, a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the state's 1996 law is scheduled for trial in June.

“Activist judges are trying to thwart the will of the people,” said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry. “It's obvious that the left has not been able to have their will at the polls or in the legislature, and now they are attacking marriage through the court.”

A national 2013 Gallup poll said 52 percent of those surveyed would vote for a law to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, and 43 percent said they would vote against it with the remainder undecided. There was a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

About a half-dozen lawsuits related to the issue are pending in Pennsylvania, but legal experts are watching the ACLU suit before U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in Harrisburg, Oliver said.

“The final result of the litigation in Pennsylvania is foreordained, just as it is in every other state. The only truly open question now is how long it will take for the judicial process to grind to its inevitable conclusion,” said University of Pittsburgh professor John Burkoff.

In Fayette County's Register of Wills Office, the bride wore a white wedding gown with a pink sash, and her wife wore a black suit and red scarf.

Though legally married in Maryland on Jan. 2, Mechelle “Shelly” and Simonetta “Simie” Marafon of Uniontown left the office without the license they sought to have Pennsylvania recognize their union.

“We are doing what we want to do, which is to get awareness out there to other couples that there's hope something will happen,” said Shelly Marafon, 43, who has lived with Simie, 48, a native of Italy, for six years.

Like Kate Barkman in Allegheny County's Office of Court Records, Fayette's Register of Wills Donald Redman said he has to follow the law.

“I don't legislate the law,” Redman said. “We enforce the law.”

Among the reasons same-sex couples seek a sanctioned marriage are the ability to file joint tax returns, to have a say in each other's medical care, and to receive Social Security death benefits, said Paula Johnston, an organizer for Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania.

Aaron Aupperlee and Liz Zemba are Trib Total Media staff writers. Staff writer Brad Bumsted contributed to this report.

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