Same-sex couples race to get marriage licenses after judge throws out gay marriage ban

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PITTSBURGH - Same-sex couples from across the state raced to apply for marriage licenses Wednesday after a federal judge threw out Pennsylvania’s ban on gay unions.

Allegheny County officials said licenses were issued Wednesday and a large crowd gathered at the City-County Building throughout the day. The downtown Pittsburgh office opened at 8:30 a.m.

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The county received 160 online applications Tuesday, much higher than the typical 15 to 30, according to county records.

Four couples waited outside the bureau inside the City-County Building before the doors opened on Wednesday

Jess Garrity and Pamela VanHaitsma of Friendship shared a quick kiss after receiving their license, the first issued in Allegheny County to a gay couple.

“We met here. We're from here. Most of our friends are here. I'm really happy to have Pennsylvania on the marriage license,” Garrity said.

"We had a ceremony with our friends on Saturday, but to find out we could make it legal is just so exciting," VanHaitsma said.

Couples who applied for a license on Wednesday will have to wait until Tuesday to pick up the license. Dek Ingraham and J.R. Shaw, of Sharpsburg plan to be at the bureau early Tuesday.

“We promised each other several years ago,” Ingraham began, pausing to cry and lean his head on Shaw's shoulder.

“As soon as this was possible,” Shaw said, “We'd run down to the courthouse and make sure no one could take this away from us.”

This is a day that thousands have been waiting for. After the decision was announced Tuesday, hundreds of local people took to the streets of Pittsburgh to celebrate.

“It means a lot. It represents our love. Our love is represented by everyone and I can finally get her last name and the benefits,” Jarae McCleary said.

By mid-day Wednesday, more than 150 same-sex couples had applied for a license online or in person.

The Republican Party and the Catholic Conference are among the critics of a federal judge's decision to strike down the law banning recognition of same-sex marriage, while Democrats and gay rights advocates are celebrating it.

U.S. District Judge John Jones III overturned the law Tuesday and says it's unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane says the state's progressed and the constitution prevailed, while U.S. Senator Bob Casey says it's the right decision. Ted Martin of Equality PA says the decision means that love wins.

The Catholic Conference of Pennsylvania calls it a redefinition of marriage and hopes an appeal is prompt. Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason also slammed the decision, saying an activist judge is disregarding other branches of government.

The Associated Press and Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.