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.