Local gay marriage supporters cautiously optimistic

Local supporters cautiously optimistic

June 26, 2013
Paul Snatchko, right, walks down the aisle with his new husband, Eric Schrimshaw, during their June 15 wedding at St. Paul's Chapel in New York City.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act brought reactions of enthusiasm and cautious optimism from people around this area who support gay rights.

Although it won’t directly change anything for gay couples living in Pennsylvania, Kathy Cameron of the Washington County Gay-Straight Alliance said the ruling is significant for the gay and lesbian community that just wants to be treated equally.

“It’s a baby step,” Cameron said before quickly catching herself. “Actually, it’s more than just baby steps. It’s very affirming. It’s huge in so many ways.”

Cameron, who has worked with the alliance for more than seven years and is now its chairwoman, has seen over time how there is “much more acceptance” on the issue. She pointed to national polling that seems to indicate a shift in public opinion over the past decade, although there doesn’t appear to be a clear path for legalizing gay marriage in Pennsylvania.

“I’ve heard from some of my younger friends who are in same-sex relationships and are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “But until we have same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, it won’t hit home for too many people. It’s a step in the right direction.”

But the Supreme Court’s timing was “impeccable” for Paul Snatchko, a McDonald native now living and working in New York City. Snatchko just married his partner, Eric Schrimshaw, at St. Paul’s Chapel June 15, but was more interested in touting the constitutional foundation of the ruling rather than how it personally affects him and his new husband.

“I’m glad. I’m happy to see it,” Snatchko said. “In the United States we can’t have two different kinds of marriage laws. The Supreme Court is keeping us together as a country. They’re saying we’re going to be consistent.”

He said after the ruling, he watched as Facebook friends expressed a wide range of emotions in their postings. However, he called it a “moderate decision” that still recognizes the rights for states to define marriage. Snatchko said he thinks it ultimately will prompt conversations and spur changes in states that have not yet legalized gay marriage.

“This is a very good way for the court to react,” Snatchko said. “The way same-sex marriage is happening is very healthy. It’s happening state-by-state. People are having conversations in their communities and with their families.”

That’s a conversation Patrick Arena of East Washington is ready to have here.

“I would say there’s still a lot to do, but it’s a big shot in the arm for all the people who have been working so hard on it,” Arena said. “We still have work to do in Pennsylvania, but it kind of opens the door more for states to make changes. Moving forward the momentum is really great.”

Arena, 62, never dreamed of having a family or raising children while growing up in this area. He “regrets” not having those options, but is happy opinions are changing both inside and outside of the gay community.

“Now gay people have all of these options and they’re choosing that they want families and partners,” Arena said. “I really feel like I missed something.”

Still he worries about the backlash by gay marriage opponents and cautioned vigilance by those who might be celebrating the court’s decision.

Regardless, he thinks the country is ready to move forward from the issue.

“You can’t legislate people from loving each other. You can’t stop people from partnering up and wanting to have families,” Arena said. “We’ve come too far.”

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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