When Chelsa Wagner married her husband in 2008, her political detractors said she’d never win an office again.
Her husband, Khari Mosley, is black, and she was serving as state representative for the 22nd district, which encompasses Pittsburgh’s South Side, parts of the North Side and southern suburbs Baldwin, Whitehall and Castle Shannon.
Instead of buckling to criticism, she says she has learned to stand behind what she feels is right, including equality when it comes to love.
She and her husband now have two boys, ages 2 and 5.
“I think in many ways he’s my biggest asset,” Wagner says. “I think your personal experience, to the extent that you’re able to empathize, makes a big difference while you’re in office.”
The Allegheny County controller acts as a “fiscal watchdog,” performing audits of other departments to prevent waste and fraud.
While Wagner’s office is not directly linked to the county’s new responsibilities of issuing same-sex marriage licenses, she says the decision to strike down Pennsylvania’s ban is the “most significant” public policy she has seen in her lifetime.
“It’s been wonderful to watch,” says the 36-year-old who took office in 2012 after five years in the state legislature.
Wagner says also realizes that in terms of statewide legislation, there is much work still to be done.
Laws like anti-discrimination House Bill 300 are necessary to help prevent protect residents of Pennsylvania, especially when systemic problems like racism and sexism persist even with legal protection.
“You still have widespread cases of things like housing discrimination, even though we’ve had laws against that for years,” she says.
Wagner, who grew up in Beechview attending Seton-LaSalle High School, uses her mother as her social barometer, saying that ten years ago when she mentioned a longtime female friend had a girlfriend, her parents had trouble relating.
“I just remember they couldn’t wrap their heads around it,” but that’s changing, Wagner says, in discussions now with her mother about same-sex marriage. “She didn’t wince, that seems normal to her now.”
She says she understands that the legislative process is purposefully slow – and Pennsylvania’s seems to be one of the states with the most deliberate legislators — to try and thoroughly dissect the issues.
“I think it’s very important in public office that you take the right position and sometimes the right position isn’t the popular position,” she says.
With the ban lifted on same-sex marriage, Wagner says in the future, Allegheny County could evolve on more socially progressive issues.
The controller says she is also glad to see people now able to pursue their own personal goals like getting married and live a genuinely happy life.
“I think on a very basic level, everyone is entitled to happiness as he or she defines it,” Wagner says.