Ryan Briggs Ryan Briggs is a staff writer and connoisseur of City Hall intrigue, business dealings, neighborhood gossip and local lore. Ryan has studied, worked and resided in Philadelphia since 2004, covering politics and development issues for Hidden City, Next City and Metropolis, amongst other fine publications.
Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley is on his second wedding of the night when I arrive at the Scottish Rite Temple auditorium. He might perform five weddings a year in the little Camden County, N.J., borough, but on this Friday night he’s doing 10. I’m here to support a family friend, and join 10 gay couples and several hundred friends and family members who pack the hall, spilling out into the hallway. The couples are among the first to tie the knot since a judge ruled that New Jersey must recognize same-sex nuptials.
“I put up on Facebook ‘It’s Vegas Wedding Chapel Night in Collingswood,’” jokes Maley, but he adds that he turned down serious suggestions to perform a Moonie-style mass wedding. “I wanted them each to get their ceremony. … It was a great family feeling. After each ceremony it sounded like we were at a game and our team just won the championship.”
Indeed, a cheer went out among relatives and strangers alike as my friend, Thomas Miller, and his 27-year partner, John Baker, were officially married. The moment was beautiful, if short-lived: Maley delicately encouraged jubilant groups to make way for the next couple, and grab a free flute of spumante on their way out.
Though the ruling made the ceremonies legal, the threat of an appeal ensured a packed house as couples scrambled to both make history and beat the clock. Though those worries subsided in the days before Miller’s wedding, he says he’s still happy to have gotten his marriage license as quickly as possible. Some of his reasons are pragmatic: Baker is retired and gets health benefits through Miller’s job as an insurance-contract writer, an arrangement the government previously taxed as a form of additional income for an unmarried couple. “As far as we were concerned, we had been married for 25 years or so. This was really just about formalizing the relationship in the eyes of the government,” says Miller. The marriage license also ensures they can share each other’s Social Security benefits in the event of a death. “I just want my family to be secure.”
As far as happy endings go, though, this one has limits. Both Miller and Baker were lifelong Philadelphians until they moved to Jersey last year. They’d consider moving back home — but abandoning the rights New Jersey now offers them is not an option.
Still, Miller admits, despite his expectations, the wedding was an emotional moment.
“What was going through my head was just how happy I was. … I was surprised at how happy I was.”
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