PA’s Dueling Marriage Equality and Gay Marriage Ban Bills

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ” http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/about-us

On April 15, Pennsylvania State Representative Mark Cohen (D-102 Philadelphia) introduced legislation (HB 1178) that would legalize civil unions and extend all state laws applicable to marriage to any civil union created anywhere and to any marriage performed and recognized outside of the state.  Less than one month later, on May 7, Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-12 Butler County) introduced his legislation (HB 1349) to create a constitutional amendment defining marriage OR its “substantial equivalent” solely as a union between a man and a woman.

So we once again have a legislative dual going on in Pennsylvania between those that believe in equality for all and those that want to enshrine discrimination into the state Constitution.

Side 1: For Equality

What does Cohen’s bill do?  Very simply, it takes us on the path toward equality for lesbian and gays.  As Rep. Cohen says,

 “This bill would define a civil union as a union between two members of the same sex.  It would make all state laws applicable to marriage also applicable to a civil union.  The bill would also provide for reciprocity of civil unions performed legally in other states and the recognition of same sex marriage in other states as civil unions in Pennsylvania.”

Civil unions represent the middle-of-the-road compromise position between constitutionally banning and permitting gay marriages and have been embraced by both advocates for LGBT rights and a growing number of conservatives.

Nothing in this bill would require any religion or any clergyman to perform any ceremony uniting people in a civil union.  This legislation will merely offer committed gay couples the same legal rights that are bestowed upon married people without the status of marriage.”

I would prefer full marriage equality.  Just like all gay and straight couples in 10 states (plus Minnesota and Delaware if their legislatures pass their marriage equality bills as expected) already have.  And  just like the majority of people in Pennsylvania desire.

In a poll released on May 8 by Franklin and Marshal University, 54% of Pennsylvanians “generally” support while 41% “generally” oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.  In that same poll, 65% support passage of a state law that would allow same-sex couples to legally form civil unions that give them some, if not all, of the marriage rights given to heterosexual couples who marry.

This bill is a compromise.  It currently has 28 cosponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee when it was introduced on April 15.

Side 2: For Discrimination

Meanwhile, Daryl Metcalfe has seen fit to once again try to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution.  It is a one-sentence amendment that has severe ramifications.  Here’s the constitutional amendment as written in HB 1349:

“Marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Metcalfe justifies this discrimination by invoking partisan politics, a right-wing encroachment on the separation of church and state, and a denial of the protections given to us under the US Constitution:

Pennsylvania does not need to wait for the United States Supreme Court to rule on what natural law already declares as self-evident … Marriage is a sacred bond that can only be fulfilled by one man and one woman, as established by God. Final passage of my legislation will allow state lawmakers to exercise their rightful responsibility and obligation to uphold the rule of law and the will of the people.

The definition of marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman,’ defended and upheld by this legislation, is the traditional definition of marriage that has been recognized and accepted throughout history and the world for centuries. Neither homosexual special interests gathered under the immoral umbrella of the ACLU, nor the Obama administration’s Department of Justice or any activist court should decide this critical issue for our Commonwealth.  House Bill 1349 is specifically written to empower Pennsylvania voters, and only Pennsylvania voters, with the authority to decide how marriage will be defined in the Keystone State.

News reports indicate that Metcalfe may be on the downside of this battle and that combined with the aforementioned Franklin and March poll, there is now less support for this discrimination.  According to the Philly Magazine,

His support system is fleeting. In the last session, the bill had 40 supporters, but today [May 8], according to a rep from [Rep] Brian Sims’ office, there are only 27. And this is the first time it’s been introduced with zero Democratic backers. To top it off, his bill’s lackluster show of support comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement that a record number of legislators on both sides of the fence sponsor[ed] legislation that ban[s] discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace and housing and public accommodations [emphasis in original].

Discrimination and inequality are not the principles Pennsylvania was founded upon.

Discrimination and inequality are not the principles this state was founded upon. Metcalfe’s discriminatory amendment, in contrast to Cohen’s call for equality and respect for recognizing loving relationships, denies unmarried heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families the protections and fairness they deserve.

Heterosexual married couples and their families are afforded more than 1,000 legal protections and economic benefits provided through state and federal law, benefits and protections that are currently inaccessible to unmarried couples.  Passage of Metcalfe’s amendment would therefore subject same-sex couples and their families to exclusion, discrimination and inequality.

Gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family member.  They pay taxes.  LGBT people should not be bullied.  They deserve the same rights, protections, and responsibilities that all residents desire and have.

If the US Supreme Court declares this summer that marriage is a right across the country just like they did in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 (see my earlier blogs here and here on this issue) then we won’t need this interim step of civil unions and Metcalfe’s bill will immediately become moot.  A great way, in my opinion to end this duel.  In Pennsylvania and across the country.

So, let’s hope that the US Supreme Court overturns Proposition 8 this summer under the equal protection and due process protections given to us under the US Constitution’s 14th amendment and therefore—like Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia in 1967—protect marriage rights for everyone. If they stop short of that, then let’s hope and advocate for the passage of Representative Cohen’s civil union bill.

Meanwhile, to keep up-to-date on these dueling bills as well as other LGBTQ legislation, check out Equality Pennsylvania’s website.

North Carolina: What Have You Been Drinking?

As a long-time activist, I’ve been watching the news around the country on many different issues.  Climate change. Racial equality. Gender equality. Same-sex marriage. Separation of church and state.  States rights.

Yesterday it really hit me.  What kind of Kool-Aid have the legislators and many of the citizens in North Carolina been drinking?  Whatever it is, it appears to have greatly impaired their view of the world and how we all fit (or don’t fit) together.  Here are three actions taken within the state in the last year that stretch credulity and appear to be sending the state back at least two centuries.

First, on May 8, 2012, the citizens of the state once again added discrimination to their constitution when they approved Amendment One. This amendment denies gays and lesbians the right to marry.  Fortunately it was the last state to do this and is now being questioned in the US Supreme Court in two cases – Hollinsgworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor.

This is the second time North Carolina has written discrimination into the state constitution. The last time discrimination reared its ugly head was in 1875 when a miscegenation ban was added to the state constitution that made it a crime for people of color and whites to marry each other.  That anti-miscegenation ban lasted until 1967 when the Supreme Court unanimously overturned all anti-miscegenation laws around the country in a case known as Loving v. Virginia.

Then in June 2012, legislators decided that reality doesn’t need to be acknowledged.  Climate change, in their opinion, doesn’t exist and must be publicly denied or ignored.  In this case, scientists within the state are banned from accurately predicting sea-level rise. Replacement House Bill 819 states that scientists would be required to predict sea level rise by just using a linear model based on trends seen since 1900.  This bill  specifically says in section 2, paragraph e:

 “These rates [in sea level rise] shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …”

Let’s bring this down to something concrete. Say it’s been sunny for the last three weeks with one day of rain and very little wind on two of those 21 days. Using a linear, straight-line model, one would predict that it will continue to be sunny and calm into the foreseeable future.  Even if Doppler radar and satellite pictures show a growing storm with 75 mile-per-hour winds headed in the direction of the NC coast.  This is ludicrous.  Where is the reality here? And where is the reality in North Carolina’s ban on accurate sea level rise predictions?

And now this week, two legislators who sponsored and/or voted for both of these thoughtless actions have taken another poisonous sip.  This time Reps. Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and H. Warren (R-Salisbury)—a co-sponsor of the house companion bill to the senate bill that became Amendment One—have introduced another constitutional amendment proposal.  If they get their way, North Carolina will declare that the state is exempt from the US Constitution and all court rulings regarding establishment of a religion.  The text of this amendment reads:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

This proposal goes hand-in-hand with another part of the NC Constitution that says that people who do not believe in God cannot hold public office. And that part of their Constitution is unenforceable because of a 1961 Supreme Court decision in Torcaso v. Watkins that bans such prohibitions.  Why? Because such a ban

“unconstitutionally invades [one’s] freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States.”

So would this newest proposal.

Sounds to me like North Carolina is setting the stage to try once again to secede from the United States of America.

Shades of the 19th Century, the Civil War and Post-Civil War era.  Climate change. Marriage rights. Religious freedom.

North Carolina. Really! What Kool-Aid HAVE you been drinking?!

Loving and Marriage Equality

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ” http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/about-us

Today at noon, the US Supreme Court wrapped up a hearing on the right of same-sex couples to marry.  The case is called Hollingsworth v. Perry. If broadly held in favor of the plaintiffs, it will prohibit states from denying lesbian and gay people the right to marry each other. If narrowly held, it would not affect cases outside California; it would only overturn Proposition 8 and allow gay and lesbian people within California to marry each other.

Tomorrow, the US Supreme Court will hear a case called Windsor v. United States. This case appeals the constitutionality of the federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA denies any benefit, such as tax deductions, for married couples who are not of the opposite sex.

Jointly, these cases are, IMO, about  fairness, equality, and family. What constitutes a family?  Is it right to deny a couple the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage granted all other loving adults?  Does prejudice trump the protections of due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution?

These questions have come up before. There are a total of 14 previous marriage-equality cases that have reached the US Supreme Court. All of these cases have declared that marriage is a fundamental right for all.  The most famous case—and one that will be part of the argument for same-sex marriage in today’s case—is Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia.

In 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren, in an unanimous decision, overturned Virginia’s miscegenation law that bans marriage “solely on the basis of racial classifications [because it violates] the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

When you read further into the opinion you can see that it was prejudice that was the sole basis for Virginia’s (and 15 other states) laws banning interracial marriage. The argument that the state made for keeping the miscegenation law on the books was highlighted in the Court’s opinion. Chief Justice Warren quoted the judge who had sentenced Mildred and Richard Loving to either 1 year in jail or 25 years of exile from Virginia:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Then Warren overturned the statute stating that there is no legal, “rational” basis to deny someone the constitutional right of marriage equally granted to all other heterosexual couples. And in one simple statement, he basically said that marriage is an issue of equality for all. He said,

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights [emphasis added] essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” 

What happened after this decision?

Interracial Marriages

The result of this opinion was that all anti-miscegenation laws throughout the country became unenforceable. And in the case of Virginia, the state was ordered, among other things, to remove this law from their books. They did it kicking and screaming. It took them until 1971–four years after the Court’s decision–to finally comply.

And I was in the room when it happened. And as far as I can find, they made as sure as they could that the legislators’ prejudicial behavior wouldn’t appear in the history books.

I grew up in Virginia. During my senior year in high school, our Government Class took a trip to the Capitol in Richmond. It just happened to be the day that the legislature rescinded the law banning intermarriage between people of color and Caucasians. There were six of us in the class who wanted to see the vote occur. The guards at the entrance to the visitors’ gallery shut the doors and wouldn’t let anyone in. The six of us decided to question this action and held a sit-in in front of the doors. After much consternation on the part of the guards as to what to do with us, they finally opened the doors and let us in.

We then watched an all-white, male legislature grudgingly vote to rescind this law. In Virginia, the House voted using a board of red and green lights – red for a no vote and green for a yes vote. The question on the floor was basically, “Should we remove the two statutes in our code that prohibit and punish interracial marriages?” 

The speaker put the question to a vote. The board started lighting up. All but a couple of lights were red, meaning that they almost all wanted to keep this prejudiced law on the books. About 30 seconds prior to recording the vote, the speaker again said that he would be closing the vote and asked everyone once again to vote. Just before he closed the vote for the record, all but a couple of the red lights turned green. What got recorded was a grudging acknowledgement that loving someone and getting married is a right that could no longer be denied because of animus towards the couple.

Same-Sex Marriages

In the case of gay and lesbian couples, we once again have an issue of animus towards the freedom to marry in some but not all states. Thirty-nine states limit marriage to heterosexual couples only via statute or state constitutional amendment.

Ten states and three Native American tribes believe otherwise. The states supporting marriage equality are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. The tribes supporting marriage equality are the Coquille Tribe in Oregon, the Suquamish tribe in Washington, and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan.

New Mexico and Rhode Island recognize marriages that occur in other states and countries, but don’t allow them to be performed within the state.  And California, unless Proposition 8 is overturned, currently and will continue to recognize only the same-sex marriages that occurred between the May 2008 CA State Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage and the November 4, 2008 passage of Proposition 8.

Polls also tell a story as does Mildred Loving

At the time of the Loving decision, 80% of the country felt that it was wrong for interracial couple to marry. In 2011 (the most recent poll I could find), a record 86% of the public supported interracial marriage.

According to FreedomToMarry.org, popular opinion on gay marriage has also dramatically shifted in the last nine years. A poll addressing the issues being argued in the Proposition 8 case was released on March 18, 2013; it indicates that 58% of respondents support same-sex marriage; only 36% say they are opposed. A poll addressing the issues being argued in the DOMA case was released on March 7, 2013; it shows that 59% of respondents oppose the “denial of equal benefits and protections for legally married same-sex couples.”  And regardless of support for same-sex marriage in either federal or state law, even more people—83 percent—believe that there is a constitutional right to marriage (poll released on February 19, 2013).

I agree. And so did Mildred Loving in one of her few public statements on marriage equality. On the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia decision (June 12, 2007), she linked the freedom to marry for same-sex couples to the freedom to marry for interracial couples:

I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Let’s listen to Mildred. Let’s listen to the public. Let’s stand up to the animus similar to that expressed by those all-white legislators in the 1971 Virginia General Assembly.

Like Chief Justice Warren and all of his colleagues did back in 1967, the current US Supreme court needs to stand for freedom, fairness, and the family.  They should  broadly rule for marriage equality as suggested by People for the American Way Foundation by supporting the freedom to marry for all. Overturn Prop 8, DOMA, and all the restrictive marriage laws across the country.

As Mildred said,

That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.