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Official: Gay ceremony largest in Pennsylvania

March 30, 2008
By William Kibler,
As he recited vows of commitment Saturday, Frank Vasquez stopped speaking, overcome with emotion.

He got past the snag only after partner Paul Datti leaned over their double-clasped hands and kissed him, setting off sympathetic laughter from the crowd at Alumni Hall in the HUB-Robeson Center at Penn State.

Vasquez and Datti were one of four couples in what Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Chairman Steve Glassman guessed was the largest-ever same-sex commitment ceremony held in public in Pennsylvania.

Glassman, the highest ranking openly gay official in the state, hit an emotional snag himself before finding his voice to recite short love poems from Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Walt Whitman and Maya Angelou to the capacity crowd of several hundred friends, family and supporters.

Neither Delia Guzman nor Kat Sinclair ever fantasized about a big wedding day as kids, but growing up in Texas, Guzman figured she would get a man someday — until the reality of her sexual orientation set in.

But that wedding day, ‘‘we ended up with it after all,’’ she said.

Sinclair and Guzman were at the point in their six-year relationship in which they were ready to commit and decided that the ceremony also gave them a chance to make a political statement.

It was a little scary at first, Guzman said, who is helping to raise Sinclair’s 12-year-old daughter.

But when they got to the stage and saw the rainbow umbrellas and a welcoming crowd, ‘‘It instantly became fun and exciting,’’ she said.

Tom Koerber, co-director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual & Transgendered and Allies suggested the ceremony because members wanted to do something different than the usual educational forum for Gay Pride Week.

The vows were not legally binding, but Donna Coffman and Amanda Applegate ‘‘consider it binding and permanent,’’ said Mayor Bill Welch, who presided over the ceremony.

Pennsylvania is among 44 states without the functional equivalent of gay marriage, Glassman said.

Altoona pastor Gary Dull did not support the event and organized a Family Values Rally nearby to protest.

‘‘When the family becomes dysfunctional for any reason, the darkest grief and the deepest pain cannot be avoided,’’ Dull stated in the rally program.

Dull loves homosexual individuals but opposes their sinful way of life, he said.

‘‘They can overcome it and have a life worth living,’’ he told a group of about 100 people who attended the rally on the steps of Old Main. ‘‘The hope of the homosexual is Jesus Christ.’’

David Gormley of Altoona joined the protest ‘‘to stand up for Jesus,’’ he said.

‘‘One man, one woman,’’ Gormley said. ‘‘That what it says in the Scripture.’’

Such controversy made attending the ceremony intimidating, said Eric Rhodes, who was with his partner Davi Reis.

They have been together for eight years and want to make a similar public commitment when an opportunity arises and they more confident of ‘‘social support,’’ Reis said.

Saturday’s ceremony should help to validate that social support, Glassman said, despite the protests and a Senate proposal to prohibit legal arrangements that give marital-type privileges such as health benefits to same-sex couples.

Audience member Stanley Sobieski of State College is straight, but he clapped, smiled and snapped pictures during and after the ceremony.

‘‘It’s so refreshing,’’ he said, after eight years of national intolerance that has left him uneasy and angry, he said.

Sobieski always has been accepting of gays, despite growing up with narrow-minded parents in Philadelphia, he said.

He’s a scientist, and the skeptical attitude that goes along with that leaves no room for closed-mindedness, he said.

Alexandra D’Urso is straight and married but believes ‘‘unless all are free, none are free.’’

Three representatives of the Penn State Atheist Agnostic Association staged a counter-demonstration at Old Main, carrying placards citing Leviticus, proclaiming sarcastically that shrimp and shaving are ‘‘abominations.’’

Dull’s protest is ‘‘tantamount to being in bed with bigotry,’’ said Dan Farbowitz, an association advocate.

Welch had no problem officiating, viewing the ceremony as one of his many community functions and a helpful antidote to the ‘‘weasel words’’ that help prevent gay commitments from counting legally in Pennsylvania.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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