There is same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. But not because the Legislature wanted to join the 21st Century and make it so.
After the US Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015 ruling requiring states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or recognize other state’s same-sex marriages, the state had to act, against its own law.
History tells us that Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban was overturned in May, 2014 by Nixon appointee U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III. At the time, beleaguered state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, with her own legal problems popping up in a legal whack-a-mole and now in jail, called the law unconstitutional. She refused to mount a defense.
The marriage ban became law in 1996 under the tutelage of then-Gov. Tom Ridge, who eventually “evolved” to support marriage equality. I was appointed to serve on his IMPACCT Commission, evaluating the Dept. of State and the Historical & Museum Commission. Good enough for that but not for marrying, I guess.
At the time of the overturning, Pennsylvania was the last remaining state in the Northeast still outlawing gay marriage. What’s important to remember is that the right of state residents to marry is the result of a court decision, not an intentional act by the General Assembly to provide a basic civil right.
Will the state weasel out a second time and be forced to amend its Human Relations Act because the US Congress may pass a national law granting basic civil rights to the queer community? In other words, in addition to paying taxes, starting businesses (like Central Voice), creating jobs (like Central Voice), can we now move up to fully human status in the eyes of the Pennsylvania Legislature?
Or will our elected officials weasel out again and begrudgingly change the state’s Human Relations Commission language to include sexual orientation and gender identity? Will they do the right thing because they have to, same as with marriage? Or will they lead?
Legislation to create civil rights for the queer community has been introduced so many times even those of us who follow it can’t keep count. But that’s how many times our elected officials have dropped the ball.
Today’s legislative iteration of creating basic civil rights for queers is known as the bipartisan Pennsylvania Fairness Act. It was first introduced in 2015, and would update the state’s non-discrimination law to explicitly include protections for queer people from discrimination at work, in housing, and in public places. To date, both chambers have so far failed to show the leadership needed to take action.
Meanwhile, dozens of Pennsylvania municipalities have passed separate ordinances to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, including Pittsburgh, Lancaster, Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton, and Philadelphia.
Who will blink first?