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Local Reactions: Marriage - It's the Law Nationwide but PA Still Needs Basic LGBT Civil Rights Protections
By Central Voice
At least as far as marriage is concerned but, according to local LGBT leaders, there is work that remains to be done. There are no basic civil rights protections in Pennsylvania for LGBT taxpayers.
Regarding marriage equality, the US Supreme Court's decision today (June 26, 2015) in the Obergefell V. Hodges case essentially makes same-sex marriage the law of the land. In a divided 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that the Constitution requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and, if not, they must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where such unions are legal.
Same-sex couples succeeded in having court declare that gay and lesbian couples can marry anywhere in the United States. Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee had asked the court to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and allow the political process, not the courts, to handle major societal changes. When today's decision was made, same-sex couples could already marry in 36 states.
Pennsylvania's law banning same-sex marriage was overturned in May 2014 by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, a Nixon appointee. At the time, the now beleaguered state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, with her own legal problems mounting, called it unconstitutional and refused to raise defense.
The state law was passed in 1996 under the tutelage of then-Gov. Tom Ridge, who has since "evolved" into supporting same-sex unions. When Jones overturned the state law, Pennsylvania was the last remaining state in the Northeast to outlaw gay marriage. The right of Keystone State residents to marry is the result of a court decision, not an intentional act by the General Assembly to provide civil right.
Today's affirmative ruling comes on the two-year anniversary of the June 2013 U.S. v. Windsor case which defeated the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional because the law denied married, gay couples federal benefits. At that same interval, the court also tossed California's Proposition 8, a voter referendum that challenged that state's law. Finally, June 28, 1969 marks the date of The Stonewall Riots, when patrons of a mafia-run gay bar in Greenwich Village, The Stonewall Inn, erupted when yet another raid took place. The history-changing moment was the result of transsexuals and drag queen patrons finally saying "Enough is enough," setting into motion four days of raucus street fights between police and hundreds of city residents. Earlier this week, June 23, the Stonewall Inn was granted state and federal status as an official historic landmark.
Yet with progress made on marriage, legislative work remains for LGBT Pennsylvanians and their allies.
“It's a truly great day when every person in America is treated equally when it comes to marrying the person you love," Ted Martin, executive director, Equality PA said about the court's decision, although he noted "the victory is bittersweet here in Pennsylvania, because, as most Pennsylvanians are shocked to learn, it is still legal to fired from your job, turned away from a business, or evicted from an apartment just because of who you are or who you love."
Martin's concern reflects Equality PA's number one priority moving forward - to update the state's discrimination laws to be sure that all people, including LGBT people, are protected from all kinds of discrimination." He is referring to a twin set of bills that have been re-introduced in both the state House and state Senate, HB 300 and SB 300 which add LGBT protections to the state's Human Relations Act.
Louie Marven, executive director, LGBT Center of Central PA, says, "It's great that queer people who want to get married will be able to do so regardless of where they live in the U.S." Marven too advises that it's now time "to turn all the attention and resources that have been poured into the marriage equality movement into supporting the most vulnerable of our communities."
This next step toward nondiscrimination in Pennsylvania is important, Marven says, because "it has to do with protecting all LGBT people. Everyone needs to be able to earn a living and find a home, and if discrimination takes place we need to have legal recourse."
John Folby, who writes The History Project for Central Voice, says he is ..." elated that the US is proactive in following other world leaders." Same-sex marriage or civil unions are legal in more than 20 nations worldwide.
On basic civil rights, Folby says, "We must continue to keep these measures like House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 on our radar. We must vote when it's time to get out the vote, remind state legislators that our LGBT vote means something and that we demand protection in employment and public accommodations." He does not want to "pass the baton to the next generation of advocates and activists. We want to see basic civil rights protections provided in our lifetime."
Judge Voids PA Anti-gay Marriage Law; Rallies Held Statewide
Harrisburg City Hall Open for Marriage Ceremonies
By Central Voice
About 100 people rallied on the steps of the State Capital Building at 6 p.m. tonight celebrating a federal judge overturning Pennsylvania's 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that banned same-sex marriage.
More photos below.
Federal Middle District Judge John E. Jones III ruled earlier today (May 20, 2014) that Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.
Jones' ruling overturns the state's 1996 Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting gay marriage and banning recognition of gay marriages performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Jones' decision means that Pennsylvanians can legally marry in the state and have their marriages which were performed in other states recognized. The prohibition against same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania has ended.
Twelve other federal courts have also struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. On Monday (May 19, 2014), Oregon overturned its law banning gay marriage, bringing to 18, now 19 with Pennsylvania's decision, the number of states allowing same-sex unions. Also today the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered expedited review of a federal district court’s decision that overturned Idaho’s ban on marriage equality. At the same time, the court put the lower court’s decision on hold until the appeal is completed. This month is also the 10th anniversary of Massachusetts allowing gay marriage.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said he welcomes the ruling. “This is an historic ruling and one that I wholeheartedly welcome,” he said. “The doors of City Hall are open to all couples who want to wed.”
Although there is a three-day waiting period in Pennsylvania between getting a license and completing the ceremony, Dauphin County's Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans' Court Jean Marfizo King said she is ready for a potential influx of couples seeking licenses.
The case, Whitewood v. Wolf, was filed July 9, 2013, on behalf of 23 Pennsylvanians who wish to marry in Pennsylvania or want the commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages.
The lawsuit alleged that the state's Defense of Marriage Act and refusal to marry lesbian and gay couples or recognize their out-of-state marriages violates the fundamental right to marry as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The lawsuit came in the wake of the ACLU's victory before the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, which requires federal recognition for lesbian and gay couples who are married in their home states.
Plaintiffs argued that the court should closely scrutinize this discriminatory treatment because the state's Defense of Marriage Act burdens the fundamental right to marry and because it discriminates based on sex and sexual orientation.
Local Harrisburg couple Marla Cattermole and Julie Lobur were among those challenging Pennsylvania's law in court. Lobur's partner of 28 years, Cattermole said told Central Voice last September,"...we'd like our relationship legally recognized." They are legally married in the state of Iowa. With today's decision, their marriage is now recognized.
In his ruling, Jones wrote: "In the sixty years since Brown was decided, ‘separate’ has thankfully faded into history, and only ‘equal’ remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage. We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”
Katie Somers, Communications Chair for the Capital Region Stonewall Democrats said, "despite many rallies and being a proud activist, today is a day that I've waiting for many years but honestly, didn't think I would necessarily see marriage equality in Pennsylvania in my lifetime. Once the clerks are ready, I will get my marriage license and legally marry my wife."
State Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who declined to defend the state law, says she won't appeal today's decision. "Inequality in any form is unacceptable and it has never stood the test of time," she said.
A spokesman for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said he was "still reviewing the opinion and once the review is complete we'll share his response."
Harrisburg Diocese's newly appointed Bishop Ronald Gainer called the ruling "a redefinition of God's law."
Rallies were held in Harrisburg, Erie, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. About 100 people attended the Harrisburg rally held on the steps of the State Capital building.
Started by Central Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Uncategorized Aug 1, 2014.