Braddock mayor Fetterman marries gay Pittsburgh couple
They exchanged borrowed rings. Guests sat in salvaged pews arranged under a chandelier of exposed wires and bulbs. Friends and family toasted the couple on a Braddock rooftop with the sprawling U.S. Steel Mon Valley Works as a backdrop. Their cake from Costco had a rainbow emblazoned across it.
John Kandray and Bill Gray of Regent Square became one of the latest gay couples to be married in Pennsylvania in defiance of a state law barring same-sex unions. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman conducted the ceremony in his home.
“On my end, it was a no-brainer,” Fetterman said of the marriage that appears to be Allegheny County’s first. “I fundamentally believe that Gov. Corbett should tear down this law and replace it with marriage equality for all of Pennsylvania.”
Empowered by recent favorable U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the support of Pennsylvania’s attorney general and perceived sea-change among Americans concerning gay equality, demand for marriage licenses among same-sex couples in the state shows no sign of slacking.
“It’s about love and happiness, and I love him and it makes me happy, and that’s my right,” Kandray said on Tuesday. “When you realize there’s a law that’s getting in the way of that or not allowing you to fully recognize that and have the benefits of other people in the exact same situation who just happen to be of opposite sexes, it needs to change, and I want to do everything I can for us to be fully recognized and for other people.”
Kandray, 40, a project manager at Ernst & Young, and Gray, 41, a nurse case manager at Forbes Regional Hospital, discussed marriage last year after dating for a decade. They decided to go to New York, where same-sex marriages are legal. On Thursday, however, they opted to try Montgomery County, where the register of wills has issued same-sex marriage licenses for two weeks, defying the law.
A friend told them Fetterman said he would marry a same-sex couple with proper documentation. Kandray called the mayor on Monday morning and, that evening, about 10 friends and family members witnessed the marriage.
“We feel like a committed couple in front of our family and friends and community, and we’ll get to that point soon when it is legal,” Gray said.
Montgomery County issued 78 licenses to same-sex couples as of Monday, said Frank Custer, a county spokesman. The county issued 16 on Monday, the single highest daily total. Twenty-one of the licenses returned to the county for filing as marriages, Custer said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health sued the county to stop it from issuing licenses to gay couples. The state must file court briefs by Aug. 12. The county has until Aug. 19 to respond, Custer said.
“Pennsylvania’s marriage law is clear. Any confusion or misunderstanding is being generated by public officials who refuse to follow the law,” Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett’s Office of General Counsel, wrote in an email to the Tribune-Review. “Individual officials cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce or uphold. Only the courts have the power to declare a law to be unconstitutional.”
Frederiksen would not say whether those marrying the same-sex couples could face legal action.
Fetterman, a Harvard University graduate, is known for his unconventional style. His forearms bear tattoos of Braddock’s ZIP code, 15104, and the dates of homicides that occurred since he took charge in 2005.
“I don’t fundamentally believe that there are a lot of people in conservative quarters that want this law on the books,” said Fetterman, a Democrat.
The 1996 law passed with overwhelming majorities. A Franklin & Marshall College poll in May found that 53 percent of Pennsylvania registered voters would favor a constitutional amendment allowing gay marriage.
Just down Braddock Avenue from Fetterman’s house, Veron Massey, 48, of North Braddock waited in the lobby of Milton’s Top Notch Hair Designs.
“That’s a stupid move to me,” Massey said of Fetterman marrying the couple. “In my opinion, it’s wrong.”
Barber shop owner James Milton agreed. He said Fetterman is known for doing things to draw attention to himself and Braddock.
“If it’s illegal here, then it’s for attention. And I’m sure it went viral,” Milton said of the marriage. “I don’t agree at all with it. I’m a Bible believer.”
Others support the marriage.
Dennis Turocy, an employee at Steel City Pawn Brokers, has gay nephews and said Pennsylvania’s law needs a fresh look. Carrier Jeter, 36, of Homestead recently moved from Braddock. She told her 17-year-old son, who is gay, about the marriage.
“I think it’s great,” Jeter said. “It kind of lets him know that there are other people out there like that.”
Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or [email protected].