Mt. Airy lesbian couple heads to Montgomery County to marry despite state ban

 A photo of Arleen Olshan (left) and Linda Slodki (right) on their wedding day. (Courtesy of Arleen Olshan and Linda Slodki)

A photo of Arleen Olshan (left) and Linda Slodki (right) on their wedding day. (Courtesy of Arleen Olshan and Linda Slodki)

Mt. Airy couple Linda Slodki and Arleen Olshan thought their upcoming trip to Vienna would be an ordinary vacation. A visit to the Montgomery County courthouse earlier this month, where Register of Wills, D. Bruce Hanes, began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on July 24, has transformed their plans into a honeymoon.

Locally, Slodki and Olshan are well-known as the co-founders of the Mt. Airy Art Garage, a burgeoning public hub of music, arts and culture in Northwest Philadelphia, but this summer’s sudden journey into matrimony has been a personal one.

Their story

The couple met about 15 years ago at a Commodore Barry Club benefit event. Speaking with NewsWorks last week about their nuptials, Slodki remembered that the Dukes of Destiny were playing that night. Olshan first saw Slodki sitting with mutual friends.

“I was totally smitten,” Slodki said.

Olshan, a former owner of the country’s oldest LGBT bookstore, Giovanni’s Room in Center City, took a little longer. “I was more difficult. I really wanted to get to know Linda and be friends with her.”

A few years later, Olshan, a New York City native, moved out of her Germantown home and joined Slodki in Mt. Airy, where she has lived for over 30 years.

“Linda has a sense of humor, she’s really bright and wonderful,” Olshan said.

“When I think of Arleen, I think of someone who is absolutely one of the funniest people…she’s smart as a whip, she’s a leader, she’s a really good artist. She is such a dreamer that she floats out into the skies,” said Slodki.

Wedding plans

“I saw it on TV,” Olshan said of getting news that Montgomery County is performing same-sex weddings after the Pennsylvania Attorney General announced that she would not defend the state ban on same-sex marriage in an ACLU court challenge. “It was Linda’s birthday, and I proposed to her.”

After 15 years together, Slodki was thrilled at the chance to make it official. “We would’ve been married way before this,” she said. “We felt really strongly that this was an issue of civil rights and of love and of justice.”

“It was really wonderful on the day we were there,” she went on, describing their trip to the courthouse, where a pro-gay marriage demonstration was going on. After the mandatory three-day wait, Slodki and Olshan married in a tiny private ceremony on Aug. 12.

‘A life of integrity’

But for all their joy, the couple knows that challenges are coming. Even those who wholeheartedly support their partnership have voiced misgivings about the marriage.

According to Slodki, some people have tempered their congratulations with worry by noting that the marriage is in vain if the state does not support it.

Olshan acknowledged that there are still many people who aren’t comfortable with same-sex relationships. She said it may be impossible to change their minds, but she aims for what she calls “a life of integrity,” without worrying about what others have to say.

Slodki thinks questions about what they’ll do if DOMA prevails in Pennsylvania are “rhetorical.”

As of July 30, Hanes is facing a Commonwealth Court lawsuit from the Pennsylvania Health Department, which would overturn his decision to issue the same-sex marriage licenses. Slodki and Olshan agreed that the legal uncertainty means little compared to their personal decision to take action on behalf of their partnership: “for us it just made sense.”

“If you love somebody that much and you were going to do it all along anyway, how could you not seize the opportunity and say, this is how I feel?” Slodki added. “We know and expect doors to close…if there’s going to be a fight, we’re ready.”

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