Monthly Archives: August 2013

Same Sex Marriage in Lansdale

Wednesday’s Council meeting was interesting to say the least. In the Public Comment portion of the meeting, Lansdale resident, Richard Strahm, approached the podium and explained how he and his partner, Ken Robinson, were issued a same sex marriage license by Montgomery County and were married last week. He went on to state that this was a large step for equality and recognition for same sex partners.

What Mr. Strahm continued to elaborate on was how I, the mayor of Lansdale, declined to perform their ceremony. He criticized my rejection to perform his wedding ceremony as cowardice. Here is a little background on the situation.

Richard sent me an email asking me to perform a wedding ceremony for him and his partner, Ken. I responded that I was touched by their proposal (we are neighbors), and that I would like to perform their ceremony, but according to the law of the State of Pennsylvania, which I took an oath to uphold, same sex marriage is still illegal. While I may not agree with this law, it is still the law in the State of Pennsylvania. Therefore, I politely declined until the law is overturned at which point, I would perform their wedding. And if they couldn’t wait, I suggested they find someone else to perform their ceremony, and I wished them the best.

Needless to say, same sex marriage is a divisive issue. There are compelling arguments at the moment here in Pennsylvania to disregard the law and exercise civil disobedience. There are also compelling arguments for following due process and appropriate channels for changing the law. Much has been written on both sides convincingly which we have seen in recent editorials in the Philadelphia Daily News, Phillyburbs.com, the Pittsburgh Herald Tribune, the Huffington Post, the list goes on and on. And of course, there are the online comments to these editorials that are also a barometer of public opinion of same sex marriage. After reading many of these editorials and comments, it is clearly an understatement to say that same sex marriage is a divisive issue.

If I had performed Richard and Ken’s wedding ceremony, there certainly would have been an outcry from some that I had broken the law and disregarded the oath that I had taken to uphold the Constitution of the State of Pennsylvania. And they would have been correct. And as I did not perform the wedding ceremony for Richard and Ken, I have been accused of being a “coward” for not practicing civil disobedience in support of same sex marriage.

Here’s where all this gets political. Richard Strahm and Ken Robinison– both Democrats– could have selected any number of people to perform their wedding ceremony. They didn’t need me to perform their ceremony, but they deliberately chose me, an elected, Republican mayor (whom, by the way, they campaigned against in the recent primary election). And when I politely declined, they became indignant and rebuked me in an email. I responded again and suggested they find someone else, which they did, and now they are happily married. I certainly did not stand in their way, and they got what they wanted. Yet, Mr. Strahm still wasn’t satisfied. In a political act of retribution to assign prejudice and discrimination to me, Mr. Strahm came to a Council meeting and publicly berated me for not performing a wedding ceremony that I had no obligation to perform.

Richard and Ken and my wife and I are neighbors, and we have socialized on many occasions together. For Richard to call me a coward, prejudiced and discriminatory for not performing his wedding ceremony is wrong. I wish him and Ken much happiness in the future.

The Arts and Lansdale

Last night was yet another unveiling of what an Arts Center in Lansdale might look like. Once again we heard the platitudes of how Lansdale needs and wants the arts, how it’s going to stimulate the local economy and what a great gathering place it’s going to be. Sounds good, right? Of course it does. We’ve heard this before. Those in power currently say that we’ll do it right this time and that we’ve learned from the mistakes of the past. While some of the details may be different from four or five years ago, the recurring, structural problem running through the idea of promoting the arts in Lansdale is that there aren’t any really committed arts groups around to warrant an arts center. For that matter, there aren’t any really committed residents to this project either. And when I write committed, I mean financially committed. My critics will say, “Wait! You’re wrong! There was a meeting last week and forty artists came! How can you say that Lansdale doesn’t want an arts center in town???!!!” There was also the petition that was circulated last year with thousands of signatures attesting the fact that residents and non-residents want the arts in Lansdale. Lansdale really, really wants the arts!!!

Well, going to countless meetings, signing petitions and repeating over and over again that we love the arts isn’t going to make an arts center successful. Even hiring consultants isn’t enough. There needs to be blood, sweat and tears and more importantly, there needs to be money– not just government money– if this project is going to work.

Ms. Kirchner favors hiring a fundraising firm for a capital campaign and is quoted as saying “It is a lot of work” and “It will take a highly specialized group to get it done right”. It will be a lot of work, but hiring a fundraising firm is just another example of transferring the burden of financial sacrifice to someone else (I do understand at some point, a fundraising firm may need to be considered). But any fundraising firm is going to want to see some commitment from the public first. I can hear my naysayers say, “There is commitment! There’s commitment from local government! We’ve spent lots of money on this arts center and we’re committed to spending a lot more! The people have elected us to bring the arts to Lansdale!” Well, folks we’ve got an election coming up and as we’ve seen in the primary election, there are some people who aren’t thrilled with the government’s subsidizing the arts in Lansdale. We’ve also seen how a change in government can kill a project, which is what happened to the arts center in 2010. Therefore, if the structural foundation for an arts center in Lansdale depends on the fickleness of local government, then the arts center is doomed.

Now to show my critics that I do look for solutions, I have this challenge: for each person who wants this arts center, there needs to be a financial commitment. $1,000*100 people= $100,000. $500*1,000 people=$500,000. I’ll be the first one to write a check. It’s a start, and it shows a TRUE commitment not just lip service to the project. It also gives more credibility to the project which is something that the fundraising firm will be able to tout to its prospective donors. Because if the professional fundraisers come to Lansdale and see that there is no “skin in the game” other than a majority on Council, then I anticipate that their commitment– and our commitment— to fundraising for the arts center will be nothing more than the fee we pay them.

P.S. As an example of local, grassroots fundraising, one need look no further than Whites Road Park. In 2004, the North Penn Rotary Club decided to build the Bandshell as part of its Centennial project. The bandshell replaced a shoddy, brick patio. On September 7, 2005 the Bandshell was dedicated. The cost of the Bandshell was approximately $225,000. The number of Rotarians at the time was about 70. That’s $3,214 per Rotarian. My point is this: there are more Lansdale residents than Rotarians; there are many more local artists than Rotarians; therefore raising more money for the arts center than the Rotary Club did for the Bandshell should be a no brainer.

bandshell 003