- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - At the birthplace of America and the site of one of the nation’s first gay rights rallies a half-century ago, rainbow-flag waving Philadelphians rejoiced Friday over the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage coast to coast.

Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania won the right to marry more than a year ago, but Brandon Szeker of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus said the 5-4 decision lifting bans in 14 states where it was still not allowed finally made him feel like a “first-class citizen.”

“It’s amazing. It’s about time that we moved in the right direction,” said Szeker, 30, outside Independence Hall. “I’m extremely excited - for myself, for everybody, and more so for everybody who fought for this cause for such a long time who can’t be with us today.”

Middle school students on a class trip from Brentwood, California, watched as more than 100 people rallied in the shadow of the building where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated.

“To see it happen here … and basically live the history instead of learning about it, for a teacher, to me it’s an amazing scenario,” said Bart Schneider, 47.

The celebration echoed the peaceful rally on July 4, 1965, that activists said was a stepping stone to larger protests and the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness and same-sex couples faced threats of violence.

The jubilant rally Friday night capped the day’s quiet celebration in the section of the city known as the Gayborhood, where the crosswalks in a major intersection were painted rainbow colors two days earlier.

“They should paint all the streets rainbow for today,” said Joe Di Dio, 73, as he and his husband, Charles Massucci, celebrated outside the National Constitution Center, about 10 blocks away.

Di Dio and Massucci have been together for 45 years. They married six years ago in Connecticut, the third state to recognize same-sex marriage.

“We never thought this would happen in our lifetime,” said Massucci, 70. “The world is changing. People are changing.”

Bill Novak adopted his partner of more than 50 years in 2000 so they could reduce their inheritance tax liability. He and Norman MacArthur married May 24 after getting a judge to vacate their earlier arrangement.

“The reaction is, ‘Hooray!’” Novak said from his suburban Philadelphia home. “It’s about time and that the United States has joined the civilized world in legalizing same-sex marriages.”

David Dyer, 33, rode his bicycle around the National Constitution Center lawn and waved a large American flag in celebration. Inside, people attended a discussion on the ruling and an exhibit on the history of gay rights.

Among them - Philadelphia politician Ed Rendell, the former mayor and governor whose early campaigns in the 1970s took him to gay bars and clubs before the LGBT community was widely seen as a key voting bloc.

“The perception of Americans has changed dramatically and it will continue to change,” said Rendell, crediting popular television shows like “Modern Family” for creating strong gay characters.

Rendell, 71, played his own small part in Hollywood’s portrayal of the fight for gay rights: a cameo as mayor discussing the city’s tough anti-discrimination stance in the 1993 film “Philadelphia.”

Gov. Tom Wolf urged the state legislature Friday to pass a similar law.

Nadia Dowshen, a Philadelphia pediatrician who works with LGBT homeless and HIV-positive youth, heralded the ruling as an “exciting step in the right direction” and wants it to spark even greater change. She called for broader access to health care, education and housing for LGBT youth and programs to teach tolerance for people regardless of their sexual or gender identity.

“This is definitely a time where we need to celebrate the victories but also remember that despite what laws change there are still so many things that we need to do yet to ensure equality for all,” Dowshen, 38, said.

David Norse, the city’s first openly gay Presbyterian minister, echoed that sentiment.

“There’s a lot more struggles ahead, but this is a great step,” said Norse, 29.


Associated Press reporter Michael Rubinkam contributed to this report.

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