FYI: You Can Get Married for Free at PAFA on November 29th

The civil ceremonies focus on LGBTQIA+ couples. Here’s how to say “I do.”

marriage equality

Life-cycle celebrant Alisa Tongg and other Philly-area vendors come together for marriage equality on November 29th. Photo by We Laugh We Love

UPDATE: Due to the new COVID-19 restrictions put into place by the city of Philadelphia starting on Monday, November 20th, the Equal Dignity Pop-Up Nuptials have been moved to Pomme, a Peachtree Catering venue in Radnor, just outside city limits on the Main Line. (Click here for the full list of guidelines.) The event was previously set to be held at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but museums are now closed at least through January 1st. The nuptials will be held in the gardens: Walk-ins are still accepted, and couples can still bring up to 10 witnesses. Currently, eight couples have pre-registered, so about five spots are still open. Everything else remains the same; PAFA is still supporting the effort and will continue to host the pre-registration link, which you can access here.

As absurd as it is, marriage equality rights for LGBTQIA+ couples could be called into question, yet again. The morning after Election Day, the Supreme Court heard arguments over whether the city of Philadelphia can require a Catholic adoption agency to pair foster children with same-sex couples. Though a decision isn’t expected until next year, the case and recent developments (like the appointment of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett) have prompted marriage equality concerns among activists, including life-cycle celebrant Alisa Tongg. So she and vendors from Philly and beyond have come together to provide COVID-safe, free pop-up civil ceremonies at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on November 29th.

Dubbed the Equal Dignity Pop-Up Nuptials, the event takes place from noon to 4 p.m. on PAFA’s 11th-floor outdoor roof deck and is open to all couples, though it is largely focused on LGBTQIA+ duos and those worried about their rights. The title stems from the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. “I read through the ruling again to refresh myself, and the phrase that jumped out to me this time was ‘equal dignity,’” says Tongg. “It’s not very dignified to have to constantly be making a case for what makes you and your family legitimate.”

This isn’t the first pop-up Tongg has held. Her first was in Jersey City, a few days after the Garden State adopted marriage equality back in 2013 (it was in response by her sister’s experience) and in June 2014 in Milford, when Pennsylvania did. Two couples were wed at the 2013 event, with one duo the year later. “For both pop-ups celebrating marriage equality at the state level, there was a feeling of urgency that the law would be overturned. So they had more of a quick-and-dirty, make-it-legal feel,” she says. “In hindsight, if we had given people more notice, so they could navigate [the various government agencies and requirements,] we could have served more people.”

marriage equality

Photo by Douglas James Photography

Tongg hopes the advanced notice will give more couples the chance to obtain their license in time. Pennsylvania requires a three-day wait to issue a marriage license. You can use a valid Pennsylvania license from any county in the state, not just Philadelphia, and many are offering online applications. (Tongg notes that many of her out-of-state couples have found Bucks County’s digital system fairly easy.)

Couples should pre-register to ensure a space, though walk-ins will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, with Tongg, Rev. Cynthia Cherish Malaran and humanist celebrant Cynthia Manchester officiating. You can come with up to 10 witnesses, but everyone will be required to complete the venue’s online health-screening questionnaire, have temperatures checked and wear masks. Participating vendors thus far are RAM Floral, Alison Conklin Photography, Maura Rose Floral Design & Events, Clover Event Co., Haley Richter Photography, BeLovely Floral Co., Shannon Toal, Vine & Oak Event Styling and Floral Design, Amaranth Florist, Jennifer Designs Events, hello, bird, Oleander Curated, Laura Billingham Photography, Elegance Quartet, Nutmeg Cake Design and Solidity Films. Several florists are providing bouquets and boutonnieres to LGBTQIA+ couples.

Finishes Tongg: “The Equal Dignity Pop-Up aims to bring all the most beautiful things that we make, create and have, and share them with those who are making and solidifying their families in the City of Brotherly Love.”

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