A couple of days ago I posted a blog about the dueling marriage equality and same-sex marriage ban bills recently introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Today I thought I give a more detailed argument as to how discriminatory the same-sex marriage ban is to gays and straights alike.
As previously stated, 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. That bill would amend Article I of the Pennsylvania state Constitution – the Declaration of Rights section – to take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples. 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.”
Until the spring of 2012, 31 states across the country had created constitutional amendments to outlaw marriage or anything that looks like marriage between same-sex couples. The last successful attempt at this form of discrimination occurred by referendum in North Carolina in the spring of 2012; all other attempts since then to deny marriage equality have failed.
Marriage equality however has had many successes since then. Three states – Delaware, Rhode Island, and Washington – either passed a referendum OR legislation legalizing marriage equality following North Carolina’s referendum. One state – Minnesota—is expected to pass their marriage equality bill today; note, this is only 6 months after the voters in Minnesota by referendum killed their proposed same-sex marriage ban. And one state – Colorado – passed legislation recognizing civil unions even though they have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Instead of moving forward, right-wing legislators would like to have Pennsylvania join the 31 other states that constitutionally ban-same sex marriages and/or other legal forms of relationships such as domestic partnerships and civil unions. These Pennsylvanian legislators are making their fourth attack on same-sex couples and on unmarried people – gay or straight. If HB 1349 passes, Pennsylvania for the first time in its history would enshrine and mandate discrimination into the state Constitution.
This amendment would take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples. The way this amendment is written would affect all unmarried couples, victims of domestic violence if they are not married to their abuser, and could threaten Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination laws
Effect on All Unmarried Couples – Gay or Straight
Currently, Pennsylvania statute recognizes only marriages between one man and one woman.
Pennsylvania does not recognize either (1) same-sex marriages or (2) civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other coupled-household status—whether entered into by same-sex or opposite-sex couples. Those affected by this amendment would therefore, for example, include senior citizens who live together but are not married because of economic considerations, couples who believe they have a “common law marriage” (which is no longer recognized in Pennsylvania), and gay or straight couples who have any type of intimate relationship.
It could also threaten the lives of unmarried domestic violence victims and allow unmarried individuals to be discriminated against in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
Effect on Domestic Violence Victims
In 2004, Ohio passed their discriminatory anti-marriage constitutional amendment, which was quickly and unexpectedly used to deny protections to unmarried victims of domestic violence. Here’s what happened. Almost immediately, unmarried batterers argued that since they were not married, Ohio could not enforce their domestic violence law because that was treating their relationship with their partner as “equivalent to marriage.” The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Ohio agreed and ruled that the Ohio domestic violence law runs afoul of the “Defense of Marriage” amendment, passed by voters in 2004, and does not apply to “a person living as a spouse.” As a result, unmarried defendants, who could have faced felony domestic violence charges, only faced misdemeanor assault charges. It took several years for the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse this ruling. In the interim, unmarried women were at the mercy of their batterers in several counties in Ohio.
The Ohio amendment is very similar to that of the one proposed for Pennsylvania. In Ohio, by providing protection to “persons living as spouses,” the domestic violence statutes created a legal status for cohabiting relationships that is “equivalent to a marriage,” according to the appeals court. The appeals court decision in Ohio then denied protection from abuse to unmarried individuals – gay or straight – because the domestic violence law gave legal standing to an unconstitutional relationship – that of an unmarried couple. The courts argument overturning these domestic violence protections utilized similar language found in Pennsylvania’s HB 1439, which states that “no other legal union… or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”
We have no way of knowing how the courts would rule on a similar argument should this amendment pass and become part of Pennsylvania’s Constitution. Who knows if Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court would protect the victim or allow batterers to circumvent Pennsylvania’s Protection From Abuse (PFA) law? We need to protect all people from domestic violence and sexual assault. Passage of this amendment could deny the protection offered by Pennsylvania’s domestic violence and protection from abuse laws; it could even risk the very lives of unmarried people–gay or straight–because this constitutional amendment denies the rights, privileges, and protections of law to people who are not legally married or who have a relationship that is “functionally equivalent” to traditional marriage.
Effects on Employment, Education, Housing, and Public Accommodations
It also looks like current and proposed employment, education, housing, and public accommodations anti-discrimination laws at both the state and local levels might be jeopardized for unmarried individuals. Discrimination based on marital status and family responsibilities is unlawful under a variety of existing laws. With a few exceptions, under current state and federal law, people who experience this form of discrimination must fit their claims into an appropriate legal theory—as discrimination based on gender, a violation of family and medical leave laws, or another legal theory. In addition, many municipalities throughout Pennsylvania have passed or are considering ordinances that would make it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, and in some cases, public accommodations specifically based on sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status. Will the state courts, the PA Human Relations Commission, or local Human Relations Commissions be able to enforce these laws if Pennsylvania’s constitution has been amended to require unmarried couples to be treated differently from married couples? We do not know. Passage of HB 1439 as a constitutional amendment could put all of these protections at risk since any person, company, or school could argue that their business is mandated to deny employment, hiring, and benefits to any person who is not married.
Civil Rights Denied, Reiterated
Last, but not least, exclusion, discrimination and inequality are not the principles this state was founded upon. This discriminatory “Marriage Protection Amendment” 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 this amendment would therefore subject same-sex couples and their families to exclusion, discrimination and inequality.
The proposed amendment could also take away existing legal protections for committed long-term couples and their children, such as second parent adoptions, cohabitation agreements, co-parenting agreements, wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., regardless of their sexual orientation.
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.
Let’s all work to stop this bill now! So I’m once again recommending that you keep up-to-date on this horrible bill as well as other LGBTQ legislation at Equality Pennsylvania’s website.