William Countryman, left, and Roy Neal, both of Dallastown, exchange vows as officiant Jason Caton looks on at City Hall in Baltimore Township. Same-sex
William Countryman, left, and Roy Neal, both of Dallastown, exchange vows as officiant Jason Caton looks on at City Hall in Baltimore Township. Same-sex couples are now legally permitted to marry in Maryland under a new law that went into effect Tuesday. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

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They've been together for 30 years, but on Tuesday William Countryman Jr. and Roy Allen Neal finally got married at Baltimore City Hall.

The Dallastown couple was the seventh same-sex couple to wed on the first day of the year, as the law permitting same-sex marriage in Maryland went into effect after midnight.

Neal, 60, said they would have loved to get married in Pennsylvania. But since it isn't allowed in their home state, they decided to go to the closest state where it is legal.

Both men grew up in Ohio, where they met.

They have lived in Dallastown for almost 10 years and love the area for its proximity to various cities and the wonderful people in their neighborhood, they said.

They host a Christmas party each year that everyone in their neighborhood attends, and two couples from their neighborhood attended their wedding ceremony.

"Each couple was allowed to bring 10 people, and not everyone brought 10, but quite a few people did," Neal said. "Everybody that was there was very supportive."

Neal, a nurse, and Countryman, 53, a paralegal in Baltimore, made the decision to do this last Thursday.

"This was right," said Neal, about their choice to have a simple ceremony at the city hall versus a larger celebration.

Supreme Court: They are eager for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The court is scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the

act this spring.

If the court upholds that law, Neal said he believes it would be a very long time before Pennsylvania legalizes same-sex marriage.

"Pennsylvania is a very strict area as far as church and state, so I think the church will play a very important role," said Neal.

Few legal benefits: For couples like Countryman and Neal who marry in a state where same-sex marriage is legal but reside in a state where it is not, the legal benefits are minimal.

"If we go to another state and get married, it's going to be meaningless in Pennsylvania," said Debra McClain, president of the Central Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

"Same-sex marriage and marriage recognition is essential for equal rights, and it has proven to be smart business for states like New York," said McClain. "And now Maryland will be able to claim some of the dollars they (the couples) are spending on their ceremonies."

Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, tells couples who get married out of state to save their receipts and mail them to their legislators in Pennsylvania to get the point across about how much money the state is missing out on.

'Front-row seat': "Quite frankly, the benefit for what these people are doing is what I said when New York passed the law," he said. "Pennsylvanians will now have the front-row seat to watch people get married in Maryland and just keep living their lives. They will see that the foundations of society do not crumble."

Since it is technically still legal to fire someone for being gay in Pennsylvania, Martin said the thought of going from where the state stands on gay rights to legalizing same-sex marriage "is like going from a tricycle to a space shuttle."

Some say being able to marry is worth it for the emotional benefits alone, but it is also about sociological benefits, said Liz Bradbury, executive director for the Pennsylvania Diversity Network.

"People in the United States do not understand exactly what civil union means," she said. "Everybody understands what marriage means, and so when you have two people who love each other and are committed to each other and they get married, everyone sees that relationship differently and the whole social and legal construct of mother-in-laws and sister-in-laws and aunts and uncles is unquestioned."

-- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or cshank@yorkdispatch.com