Gay-Marriage Debate Heats Up in PA

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Feb. 2, 2011

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Going to the chapel: West Philly residents Amanda Kole (left) and Rachel Turanski documented their cross-country trip down the isle.

Photo by MIchael alan goldberg

Sitting at the dinner table in her West Philly rowhome, 29-year-old Amanda Kole glances over at her partner of two years, 26-year-old Rachel Turanski, and smiles. “I never thought we’d be people who were political or controversial. We just wanted to exercise our rights, and we had to go to Iowa to do it.”

Despite their hesitancy to become poster girls for LGBT activism, Kole and Turanski are preparing to thrust themselves into the heated debate over same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania as the subjects of the forthcoming documentary Married in Spandex.

The 30-minute film, due in the spring, follows the couple’s road trip last June from Philadelphia to Iowa—one of five U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, where gay marriage is legal. They were wed (in spandex outfits) by gold-lamé-clad lady rapper and marriage officiant Leslie Hall in an over-the-top ceremony that featured a performance from flamboyant Philly dance troupe Club Lyfestile.

Why travel 1,100 miles to get married, only to return to a state that doesn’t recognize their status? “Because we could, and it was a celebration of our love, and it was a crazy fun party,” Turanski says. And, notes Kole, if gay marriage is ever legalized in Pennsylvania, “the tax breaks and full domestic partner benefits are pretty nice.”

Kole, a librarian, and Turanski, an educator, explain that they didn’t initially set out to make a documentary. The footage was meant to be a wedding video, shot as a present by Kole’s sister Allison and her sister’s boyfriend, independent filmmaker Devin Gallagher, who piled into a van with the couple, their dog Darla and a few other friends for the 18-hour journey to Ames.

Soon after the nuptials, however, they realized they had captured not only a colorful cast of characters but something more poignant and significant: The experience of several members of Kole’s family—conservative, religious people who have traditionally opposed same-sex marriage—who traveled to the wedding in spite of their misgivings.

“They ended up supporting us even though they were in an environment that they weren’t used to and in no way could be prepared for,” Kole says. “But they embraced it … and they’ve accepted Rachel into the family.”

The couple says the idea behind Married in Spandex is to appeal to viewers’ sense of compassion and humor, rather than bash them over the head with their convictions.

“We’re not Michael Moore-ing it up,” Turanski laughs. “Fighting fire with fire doesn’t do anything but make people more angry. Ideally, people will watch this and think, ‘They love each other, they’re stable, they have great jobs, they’re hilarious, they’re putting good into the world—why not just let them get married and have it be legal in Pennsylvania?’”

But that’s a pretty tough sell to Pennsylvania’s strident gay marriage foes gearing up for battle this year. On Feb. 11 and 12, the Pennsylvania Family Institute is hosting a conference called The Art of Marriage —a six-session video event created by the Arkansas-based ministry FamilyLife—at churches in Reading and Harrisburg.

While touted as a means for couples to build “godly marriages” through advice from more than a dozen prominent evangelical leaders (including pastor Paul David Tripp of Philadelphia’s Paul Tripp Ministries), many LGBT advocates believe that the videos—the specific contents of which are being kept tightly under wraps until their Feb. 11 premiere—are a thinly veiled effort to uphold the “one man-one woman” definition of marriage and drum up local support for what they view as the anti-gay agenda of groups like PFI. (The Art of Marriage conference made national headlines last month when word that a Pennsylvania Chick-fil-A was donating food to the event led numerous gay-rights groups to call for a boycott of the fast-food chain.)

Critics of PFI point to president Michael Geer’s public statements calling same-sex marriage “not moral” and a “tragedy,” as well as his group’s call for a “marriage protection” amendment to Pennsylvania’s Constitution—similar to California’s controversial Proposition 8—that would ban same-sex marriage. And there’s the essay co-written by FamilyLife president Dennis Rainey titled “Gay Marriages … What’s the Big Deal?” in which Rainey (who also appears in The Art of Marriage videos) concludes that America faces a future of severe social ills “if we allow gay marriage to further undermine and redefine an institution God created.”

Geer did not respond to several phone calls and emails seeking comment. But when asked if The Art of Marriage contains any anti-same-sex marriage content, Joy Roark, FamilyLife’s marketing communications director, said: “The event looks at what the Bible teaches about marriage. There’s nothing in The Art of Marriage that specifically addresses any challenges faced by gay couples. There may be things that people disagree with … but they’re welcome to attend anyway.”

Many signs seem to indicate momentum is on the side of Pennsylvania’s same-sex proponents: The December repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”; the growing likelihood that New York and Maryland will legalize same-sex marriage this year; and a recent Pew Research Center poll that found that fewer than half of all Americans oppose gay marriage. But Ted Martin, executive director of the LGBT rights organization Equality Pennsylvania, believes his group will struggle in 2011 to hold ground against the intense anti-gay marriage lobbying efforts from PFI and other well-funded groups, whose cause was certainly helped by the conservative Republican sweep of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly last November. That may have emboldened State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, (R-Butler County), who plans to introduce a marriage protection bill sometime this year—even if three similar efforts over the past four years failed.

Though Martin says he’ll continue the fight to legalize same-sex marriage, he believes it’s a moot point if LGBT citizens are not first protected by nondiscrimination legislation. “If suddenly I could get married in Pennsylvania and I could marry my partner on Saturday, Saturday night I could get denied a hotel room for my honeymoon. And then Tuesday I could get fired when the marriage announcement comes out in the newspaper. And by Thursday I’m living in a refrigerator box under a bridge. But I’m married.”

Indeed, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age or national origin,” but not sexual orientation or gender identity. Efforts by some state lawmakers to amend the act over the past decade have failed. “In roughly 85 percent of the state, people can still be fired for being openly gay,” Martin says. “Philadelphia affords a more protected life for LGBT folk, but you don’t have to go very far outside the city for it to be a completely different situation.”

Stephen Glassman, chairperson of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Committee, says that because numerous efforts over the past decade to pass a statewide nondiscrimination law have failed, his focus has turned to passing local sexual orientation/gender identity nondiscrimination ordinances. In addition to Philly, such laws are already on the books in places like Lower Merion, West Chester and Doylestown, and similar efforts are currently under way throughout Bucks, Montgomery and Delaware counties despite pushback from members of PFI and the American Family Association.

Glassman believes that once all of these laws are in place in Pennsylvania, legalization of gay marriage will follow, all of it possibly within the next couple years, He scoffs at what he terms the “desperate attempts by some people to prevent the inevitable.”

“In places that have legalized same-sex marriage, it’s been a tremendous success. The sky hasn’t fallen, no one’s married a dog, and there hasn’t been any financial or economic impact that’s been in any way negative,” Glassman says.

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Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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1. Anonymous said... on Feb 2, 2011 at 01:17PM

“This is a great story. Looking forward to the film too!”

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2. Donna (Amanda's Mom) said... on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:17AM

“This is an extremely well written article that encompasses the essence of what Amanda and Rachel represent. I am so proud of Amanda and Rachel for sharing their journey via "Married in Spandex." Equally proud of my daughter Allison Kole and her wonderful bf Devin Gallagher for their creative genius and tireless efforts to tell this amazing love story.”

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3. John Deans said... on Feb 4, 2011 at 09:44AM

“Thank you for writing this article and exposing the debate a little more. Love is the heart of equality and I applaud Amanda and Rachel for opening up their love to the public for us to laugh and be inspired, and hopefully continue the momentum toward equality.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Feb 20, 2011 at 01:51PM

“So basically Glassman is using the system to bypass the lawmakers (and the People) by creating ordinances to achieve his objectives. Typical of the left.

I bet if a Christian started praying on school property, Glassman would be the first in line to stomp on their rights, but it's quite alright for him to shove the homosexual agenda on unsuspecting Pennsylvanians.”

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5. Serena said... on Mar 3, 2011 at 04:12AM

“All the best to the beautiful couple! To those against gay marriage and equality of the GLBT community: just because you don't approve, doesn't give you the right to quash others rights and lifestyles. Get off your high horses of religion and get over yourselves. America is meant for all and everyone to live a life of happiness and equal footing, no matter your race, gender, religion, sexual identity and income status, but I assume you've forgotten that or have personally ommited this from your "ideal for a perfect America" i.e. You're either with us (aka the good and godly people) or against us (i.e. Everyone else).

If you are truly so incensed at this thought that you absolutely cannot tolerate someone who isn't like you in everyway, might I suggest you move to a desert island and carry on your pity party there.

To the GLBT community, from a heterosexual and supportive person, don't ever doubt your worth, don't ever feel you have to conform, and love the one your with. Stay strong!”

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6. Anonymous said... on Mar 24, 2011 at 10:27PM

“Ok, is this organization or any of its leaders moving to Pa?? Check the processing center info....hope someone will do some digging.....”

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7. Anonymous said... on May 2, 2011 at 08:30PM

“If you are truly so incensed at this thought that you absolutely cannot tolerate someone who isn't like you in everyway, might I suggest you move to a desert island and carry on your pity party there.

have to second this entirely , The US is one of the few western countries that haven't embraced this , is american politics really behind canada and mexico/south america both?? really?
but for what its worth , the taliban totally hates gay people too.... maybe they will join you in school-time prayers...”

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8. Anonymous said... on Sep 24, 2011 at 11:00PM

“It sickens me that its illegal like come on its not a drug its a way of life and if everyone was straight there would be no diversity ,so why cant we all just accept the fact that others are different ? Why when we look and see a girl dressed like a guy do we all say in our heads or possibly out loud look at that dyke? Or shes butch?? Come on!! Some people cant help that fact that they are bigger, more masculine....(srry had to put that in there for my ex gf) ughh i just wish that there was more peace .... Love is love it has no gender ,and for the christian idiots who say god hates gays or lesbians or bisexual and so on .....looks like im goin to hell ,i believe if you do good thing in life u will die and go somewhere good but i dont do religion so yea....(....i love you beautiful.,..just plz come back)”

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9. Anonymous said... on Jun 26, 2013 at 01:35PM

“My partner and I have been together for over 33 years. We raised her children and her grand children. We know Pennsylvania is very conservative but we feel we should have the same rights and privileges of heterosexual couples. Keep in mind that they receive these benefits just because they are "different". I can't wait for a law suit in PA that sorts this out.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jun 26, 2013 at 01:35PM

“I have been with my partner for 33 years now. We loose out on hundreds of benefits accorded heterosexuals that can't even make their marriages work. Why? I think we would be a good couple to present in a law suit for these rights.”


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