Lansdale Mayor Andy Szekely counts Richard Strahm and Ken Robinson as neighbors and acquaintances, but he still has a job to do.
So, when Strahm emailed Szekely asking him to marry him and his partner of 18 years, Szekely was honored, but, in upholding the Constitution of Pennsylvania, cordially declined the request.
Strahm on Wednesday appeared at the Lansdale Borough Council meeting, where, during public comment, he expressed his disappointment and frustration with the so-called discrimination against him and Robinson by Szekely.
Strahm and Robinson were two of the first 20 people to apply for and receive a same-sex marriage license from Montgomery County. The two were married last Friday in a ceremony in their Lansdale backyard, officiated by a local friend.
Strahm had initially emailed Szekely for the marriage request, and said Wednesday that he was saddened when Szekely "flatly turned us down."
"Whether this was due to cowardice or prejudice on his part—I most probably will never know," said Strahm. "But I do know his reasons were flimsy. He said that he has an obligation to uphold the law. What he seems to forget is that his obligation, his oath of office, is to uphold the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions."
Strahm commented Wednesday that Szekely feared to set a precedent among the Lansdale Police force.
"Somehow our police force will turn into a band of law breakers if he were to marry us? Seems pretty far-fetched," Strahm said.
Strahm said Wednesday night that he expected Szekely to follow in the leads of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Montgomery County Recorder of Wills Bruce Hanes and Braddock, PA Mayor John Fetterman in standing up against an unconstitutional law.
Strahm's opinion may have sparked a push for Lansdale to consider an anti-discrimination policy in the borough.
"I am coming to you tonight to ask that Lansdale become a leader in the anti-discrimination movement here in Pennsylvania and pass an ordinance to protect our LGBT citizens from the discrimination they face," Strahm said. "I have lived far too long to continue to be silent."
Szekely on Wednesday asked sitting solicitor Ken Fernandez on the status of same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania. Fernandez said marriages in Pennsylvania legally are viewed as between a man and woman.
"Although the federal Defense Against Marriage Act was effectively repealed by the Supreme Court, Pennsylvania has not gotten to that point yet," Fernandez said. "The status of the law going forward is very much up in the air with litigation."
Szekely and Strahm then had a public debate during Szekely's Mayor's Report at the council action meeting:
Szekely: Richard, I'm very upset with how you approached this. You sent me an email, and it will be made to the public. I was very cordial. I said I would love to perform the civil union for you and Ken. Did I not say that?
Strahm: You're asking me a question ...
Szekely: No! (slams fist on table) Answer the question!
Strahm: That’s uncordial right there! I do have to say, when discrimination and prejudice hides behind a thin veil of cordiality, it makes it that much more worse.
Szekely: You're accusing me of being prejudice?
Strahm: I wonder what your motives were, yes.
Szekely: But you’re accusing me of being prejudice right now?
Strahm: I'm accusing you of giving me the third degree right now.
Szekely: I can give you the third degree; you gave me my third degree right now at the podium.
Strahm: I didn’t give you any third degree, Andy.
Szekely: You called me a coward!
Strahm: I said, whether it was cowardice or prejudice, I have no idea what your motivation was.
Szekely: Richard, what did I say? I said I would like to do the ceremony for you. You and Ken are (my) neighbors.
Strahm: You refused, however.
Szekely: And I did. Who gives me the right to perform a wedding? The state. According to the state, today, it is against the law to perform same-sex marriages, plain and simple. As much as you may not like that, that is the law here.
Strahm told Szekely that, "when you look at the long long list of extremely patriotic and brave Pennsylvanians who have stood up for what I truly know will be the right side of history, yes, you did make your choice."
After Wednesday's meeting, Strahm said he wants from Lansdale is what other municipalities have done—they have created a non-discrimination policy.
"It is not specifically for marriage; it is not specifically for housing or jobs. It is for everything that, right now, LGBT people can legally be discriminated against in common life," Strahm said.
Robinson said he and Strahm were discriminated against by Szekely.
Strahm said so many people are on the "right side" of the law—Kane, Hanes, Fetterman, Sen. Daylin Leach and 102 other state senators and representatives.
"Yes, you can maybe look at what we did, even though we have a completely legal marriage license, as civil disobedience," Strahm said. "I encourage everybody to please come on board, because it is right and just."
Strahm said the issue was not political.
"This is a personal thing. This is my life. This is our life," he said.
Strahm said he deep down in his heart believed Szekely would have bent over backwards and go against the law.
"I feel disappointed, but I'm still ecstatically happy that after almost 18 years together, we have what every citizen of the U.S. deserves, and that's equal rights," he said.
Szekely said he is for same-sex marriage, but he has to uphold the law.
"When I took an oath as the mayor to uphold the Constitution of the state of Pennsylvania—that’s what I do," he said. "Richard could have found anyone to marry him. It didn't have to be me, but I believe, for political purposes, he came to me and asked to marry him."
Szekely said he understood Strahm's point of civil disobedience
"I'm here to uphold the law," he said.
At Wednesday's meeting, Councilwoman Mary Fuller said she had been asked by a constituent on whether she would support an anti-discrimination policy.
"What I answered to this constituent was I had been contacted over the past three years from the Pennsylvania Equality Organization asking if I would help them bring this forward in Lansdale," Fuller said. "I told them, yes, I would speak to them and promote and support an anti-discrimination legislation in the Borough of Lansdale. Maybe it's something to look forward to in the future."