Bill Novak, now 78, and Norman MacArthur, now 76, moved to the suburbs of Philadephia two decades ago. When they realized that Pennsylvania would not recognize their domestic partnership in New York, they turned to adoption.
In 2000, Novak adopted MacArthur. As legal father and son, they would be able to visit each other in the hospital, not get pounded by inheritance tax and have other rights available to heterosexual married couples.
"The time came about to do estate planning. We were told when we started to look into this that hell would freeze over before Pennsylvania allowed same-sex marriage," MacArthur explained, according to the Examiner. "So doing the adoption was literally the only thing we could do to give legal underpinning to our relationship."
The devil got out his long underwear last year and a federal judge lifted the ban on same-sex marriage in the commonwealth. Novak and MacArthur, a couple for more than 50 years, wanted to marry - but they were legally father and son.
On May 14, Judge Gary B. Gilman of Bucks County Orphans' Court made history. For the first time, a same-sex couple in Pennsylvania had their adoption dissolved so they could marry. "It removes the hurdle for other people who may be in the same position as Bill and Norm," said the couple's attorney, Terry Clemons, according to the Associate Press via southwestern Pennsylvania's Observer-Reporter.
There are no statistics on the number of same-sex couples who have turned to adoption in order to gain rights denied to other same-sex couples, but according to the Doylestown, Pa. Patch, the process was fairly common around the turn of the century.
Angela Giampolo, a Philadelphia attorney specializing in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender law, said she turned down a couple who asked her to help them in the adoption process. "What a lot of advocates back then were saying was this was delegitimizing" of same-sex relationships, Giampolo said, according to the Observer-Reporter. Also, marriage can end in divorce, whereas adoption is permanent.
MacArthur and Novak's legal status did not change their relationship, the couple said. MacArthur told the Observer-Reporter that "friends and family greeted it with a shrug."
With 30 friends in the courtroom last week, MacArthur and Novak got the good news. "The courtroom burst into applause. I burst into tears," MacArthur recalled, according to the Observer-Reporter. "They were certainly happy tears. After months of investigating ways that we could do this and finally having the decision coming down in our favor, I'm still walking 3 feet above the ground."
Clemons is representing another gay couple who is hoping to vacate an adoption so they can marry. MacArthur and Novak have their wedding license and will be legally married soon.