Achsa Novak walked out of work Wednesday when she heard the news.
Her head spinning, Novak joined her partner of five years, Rebecca Bush, and headed straight for the Willowbank Building.
Right hands raised, tears streaming from Bush’s eyes, they recited an oath and became the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Centre County.
“I’m in disbelief this is happening,” Novak said hours later.
That’s because just days ago it wouldn’t have been legal. A federal judge Tuesday overturned Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage and opened the doors for gay couples across the state to marry.
After initially bracing for a state appeal that never came, the Centre County register of wills confirmed Wednesday morning that the county would start accepting marriage applications from same-sex couples.
Within about an hour, Novak and Bush were there. They were the first, but two other couples applied later in the day, according to county officials.
For Novak and Bush, who live in Julian, the federal court decision brings security and acceptance.
“It’s never been an easy journey, being so different,” Novak said.
The couple are parents to a seven-month-old daughter, whom Bush carried. Without a legally recognized marriage, Novak feared her authority as a parent to her daughter could be questioned or challenged.
“This is something that gives us so much more security,” she said.
Though Novak worried Wednesday the decision was “too good to be true,” proponents received more encouraging news when Gov. Tom Corbett announced he would not appeal the judgment.
In a statement, Corbett said the case is “extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal,” and therefore his office would not pursue the matter.
“As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not wavered,” he said in a statement. “I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. My duties as governor require that I follow the laws as interpreted by the courts and make a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal. ...
“It is my hope that as the important issue of same-sex relationships continues to be addressed in our society, that all involved be treated with respect,” the statement said.
That drew praise from the gay-rights group Equality PA.
“Words cannot express what this means to the loving couples and families in Pennsylvania who have waited so long to be recognized,” Ted Martin, Equality PA’s executive director, said in a statement. “Marriage matters to all families, and we rejoice with them today. We also understand that what matters is not that we share the exact same beliefs with everyone in the commonwealth, but that we respect each other's differences and treat everyone equally.”
But Corbett’s decision also earned the ire of some in the General Assembly.
“Once again, Gov. Corbett has failed to finish the fight,” Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, said in a statement. “The decision on marriage should be left to the voters of Pennsylvania, not an activist judge sitting on the federal bench.”
Gay rights proponents across Pennsylvania hailed the federal judge’s ruling as a watershed moment.
State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, who hosted a same-sex marriage in her home last year, joined in with the praise, but also recognized Centre County’s decision to accept applications here.
“Until now, they had to try to find some other location where they would be accepted,” Goreham said. “Almost as if you are sneaking away. Marriage is supposed to be a celebration.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for Novak and Bush. The couple were planning to celebrate their union locally in August among family before they had any idea the court ruling would come down Tuesday.
The prospect of a legally recognized marriage was an important moment for the family.
“We are just like everybody else,” Novak said.