Same-sex couples in Western Pa. adopt traditional wedding rituals |

Same-sex couples in Western Pa. adopt traditional wedding rituals

Bob Bauder
Aaron Aupperlee | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Squirrel Hill District Judge Hugh McGough presides over the wedding ceremony of Pamela VanHaitsma, 35, and Jess Garrity, 38, of Friendship on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. They were the first same-sex couple to marry in Allegheny County a day after a judge struck down Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage.

Same-sex weddings have been routine in District Judge Hugh McGough’s Squirrel Hill office since last year, when he performed the state’s first gay marriage ceremony.

McGough said couples have trended a little younger, and he’s noticed that some aren’t well acquainted with what it was like when same-sex marriage was illegal.

“Very young people in their 20s cannot grasp what a fast-moving change has occurred in society in recent years,” McGough said. “Twenty-something couples have difficulty envisioning that generations ahead of them never even dreamed that this would be possible.”

The ceremonies have evolved in 11 months to include receptions, flowers and professionally applied makeup for the happy couples, business owners in the region say.

Government offices that issue marriage licenses cannot say how many they’ve granted to gay couples, because they do not track them, but McGough said he’s done 147 since his first one on May 22.

“In the initial months, the couples tended to skew older, into their 50s and 60s,” he said. “They’d been together for decades, and it was kind of a backlog of people. As we got further and further away from the first marriages, I’ve noticed a slight decrease in the age.”

Patty Fowler, owner of Flowerama in Ross, said she supplied flowers for years to couples having commitment ceremonies. She said she’s done three weddings since January and has two booked.

“I see that more formal events are occurring,” Fowler said. “It’s becoming a large event, and it’s giving us, who are in the business, more of a resource.

“They’ve been able to go from something small in the backyard to walking up the aisle in their church.”

That includes having their hair and makeup done by professionals, said Allison Roth, owner of Allison Roth Studio in the South Side. Roth said her staff has catered to several same-sex wedding parties in recent months, applying makeup and eyelash extensions.

“Weddings are such a happy day,” she said. “Everyone deserves that happiness, and everyone deserves to look beautiful on their wedding day.”

The Rev. Dennis Wargo, a nondenominational interfaith minister from Penn in Westmoreland County, said he noticed an increase in same-sex marriages since the ban was lifted last year.

He said couples are trending toward marrying during months favored for traditional weddings — May, June, September and October. He has performed about 15 same-sex marriages in the past year, he said.

“It’s really too early in the process to really say what impact it has had, but I don’t see any changes coming,” Wargo said. “I think we’ve reached the point where, as a society, we are recognizing that everybody has rights.”

The Fairmont Hotel, Downtown, is booking more same-sex weddings since a reception last year for 19 couples married by Mayor Bill Peduto, said spokeswoman Julie Abramovic. The hotel had two more receptions last year and has one booked in 2015.

“It’s opened up our business to an entirely new demographic of people,” she said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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