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Tom Buckley and Alfred Zaher bought a house, adopted two children, Liam, 12, and Andrew, 14. Now, after 33 years of being together, they are getting married.
On Tuesday, the same day a federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage as unconstitutional, the couple had a simple conversation. Zaher turned to Buckley and asked, “Should we go and get a marriage license?” To which Buckley replied, simply: “Okay.”
They finished filing for their marriage license by 10:15 a.m., Wednesday, which
will officially be recognized on Saturday after the state’s three-day waiting period.
By 8 a.m., about four couples were waiting outside the marriage license office in City Hall when it opened. Throughout the day same-sex couples trickled in to the office to get their license. Some had waited almost as long as Buckley and Zaher, others had only been together for a few years. But no matter the wait, there was a sense of excitement that was palpable. The marriage license office stayed open late until 7 p.m., Wednesday, to accommodate those who wanted to get a license.
The process itself was mundane — a filling out of the necessary forms — but it obviously held great significance to the couples. This was a day they thought would never come.
When asked how long they’d waited for this moment, Zaher replied, “Thirty-three years. More or less. He refused the first time.”
As for their sons’ reactions, Buckley said, “Our younger son is probably more excited about it than our older — not that he’s not excited about it, but he’s a little bit more…” Before Buckley can go on, Zaher finishes his sentence. “He’s more fourteen.”
The first time the couple talked about marriage was the first year they were together. Buckley told Zaher that there had to be good financial reasons, “because really I felt otherwise we didn’t need a piece of paper to stay together.”
“He’s from Boston,” Zaher joked.
But even then they couldn’t realistically talk about marriage, Buckley said, “because it wasn’t an option.” Zaher added, “It was unheard of.”
“I never thought of getting married to be honest because I assumed it would never take place,” Buckley said.
The couple began to talk about marriage more seriously when Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage in 2004. But even then, they weren’t rushing to do it, especially since it wasn’t legal in Pennsylvania, the state where they were living.
Still today, Zaher doesn’t forget the states, Pennsylvania included, “and the largely Republican legislatures” that passed the Defense of Marriage Act, forbidding same-sex unions.
“They really wanted to slow down the whole process knowing full well that it would inevitability result in an unconstitutional decision,” Zaher said. “The mean spiritedness of it still lingers and it will finally be over in probably the next five years when all the states ratify.”
Buckley interrupted him to say, “Not all the states. I’m sure one will hang on as long as possible.” But now, Buckley said, there are more practical reasons for the couple to get married. They have children and own property together.
Buckley, who is originally from Boston, and Zaher, who is originally from Brooklyn, met on September 12, 1981 at a meeting of the Gay Switchboard, Inc., a counseling crisis intervention hotline in New York City. Zaher was about to resign from his membership and Buckley was just joining the group. That night the group went out for a big dinner.
“And we met and we’ve been together ever since,” Buckley said.
The couple moved from New York to Maryland where Buckley got a masters degree at the University of Maryland, and Zaher got his first job as an engineer. They later moved to Philadelphia when Buckley got into the University of Pennsylvania. They have lived in Philadelphia for nearly 30 years.
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, the couple was thinking of getting married in New Jersey, where they have a beach house and where same-sex marriage has been legally recognized since October 2013. But, Buckley said, “We kept thinking about getting there, we’d have to find a time to go down together, and to the shore. We weren’t making it. It wasn’t happening. This was much easier.”
Gov. Tom Corbett announced Wednesday that he would not appeal the judge’s ruling on same-sex marriage.
Still, Buckley and Zaher were advised to get married sooner rather than later. They have a good friend in California who is going to officiate. Thinking about logistics, Buckley said, “Well, I mean he could come for the weekend. It’s a long weekend.” Zaher echoed his thoughts, “Memorial Day.” Continuing his thought, Buckley said, “They might already have plans. Well, we could try.”
The couple laughed, in unison.
Photo courtesy of Kate Kramer and her blog theirfavoritething.wordpress.com.