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Pa. marriage license applications don't reflect allowance of same-sex unions

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Sunday, July 20, 2014, 10:20 p.m.

Mike Natale has considered Doug Dantzer his husband since the couple wed in a civil union in New Jersey in 2007.

But the slip of paper the Long Branch couple recently filed at the Washington County Courthouse to have Pennsylvania recognize their marriage says Dantzer is Natale's wife, because the application for a marriage license hasn't caught up with the state's allowance of same-sex marriages.

“The clerk was very enthusiastic about us, and she was embarrassed and apologetic about the fact that the state forms still had husband and wife on them, but she assured us she would white them out,” said Natale, 37.

“She asked us both for our IDs and by chance she picked mine off the table and entered it into the computer first, so I got the ‘husband' slot and Doug got the ‘wife' spot,” he said. “We had a little bit of fun over that.”

Forms in several counties across the state use the words “husband” and “wife,” forcing same-sex couples to choose who is who or allow clerks to decide.

A state Department of Health spokesman said the agency soon will provide short-term recommendations to assist counties with changes. The department is developing a form with language more inclusive for same-sex couples, who gained the ability to legally marry in May when a federal judge overturned the state's ban.

“We will be working with our 67 counties to ... answer any questions they may have through the process,” spokesman Wesley Culp said.

In Butler County, Register of Wills Judith Moser, operating under a temporary directive from the state, changed the forms to say “Applicant 1” and “Applicant 2” soon after the law changed.

Beaver County Register of Wills Carol Ruckert Fiorucci did the same in that county's internal system, although the printed forms there still say husband and wife, she said. The county bought a supply of marriage license applications just before the law changed.

“When we run out of the old forms, the new ones will reflect the new wording,” she said.

It took a couple of days for Westmoreland County Register of Wills Michael Ginsburg to change forms. Although a few same-sex couples applied for licenses using the old form, Ginsburg said they didn't complain.

“They had been waiting years and years, and they were so excited to get married,” he said.

Allegheny County is awaiting the official Department of Health directive before contacting its vendor to make changes to its “bride” and “groom” wording, said Michael McGeever, deputy director of the county Department of Court Records.

“We want to make the changes, but the county acts as an agency of the state in this, and the state Health Department has not finalized what language it is using,” McGeever said.

Though some people argue the designations are arbitrary, others say the words should be inclusive of everyone.

“We realize some government entities are slow to respond. If in three or six months (it isn't changed), I would consider that to be a problem,” said Levana Layendecker, a spokeswoman for Equality Pennsylvania.

Natale said a welcoming staff in Washington County “more than made up for the outdated forms.”

“Just like the form can no longer assume husband and wife, people can no longer assume that a man with a wedding ring has a wife,” he said. “Some people's assumptions are outdated.”

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or

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