Pennsylvania Gay Marriage: Could This State Be the Next to Legalize?


Earlier today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage shortly after the Supreme Court handed the issue to the states just last month. 

The ban was passed in 1996. Republican House Rep. Allan Egolf, who wrote the amendment, said, "This amendment does not take anything away from anyone that they now have. It is simply an expression of Pennsylvania's traditional and longstanding policy of moral opposition to same-sex marriages."

The eclectic group of 23 plaintiffs — including a Vietnam veteran, doctor, professor, and truck driver — are made up of one widow, 10 couples, and two daughters of one of the couples. 

Susan Whitewood, who has been with her partner, Deb, for 22 years, said the main factor behind joining the lawsuit was to ensure respect for their relationship more than anything else.

Whitewood's daughter Abbey hopes to make a universal impact and "prove that young people like myself can change the world if they stand up for what they believe in."

The ACLU claims in their suit that the current ban on same-sex marriage does not satisfy any government or child welfare concerns of the state, considering many same-sex couples are allowed to adopt children. Additionally, they claim that same-sex couples are not given the same legal and financial rights as heterosexual couples. These rights include inheritance tax exemption for widows, assistance programs for same-sex widows and widowers of military personnel and veterans, a spouse's retirement benefits, and so on.

Recent polls in Pennsylvania suggest that opinions on gay marriage are shifting. In March, the Franklin & Marshall College Poll found 52% of voters in favor of gay marriage — a 19% increase in the past six years. 

While the poll numbers may be a positive sign for the lawsuit, Pennsylvania is not going to be an easy state to battle on this issue. Democratic strategist James Carville famously stated that "Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the West, and Alabama in the middle." 

And by that, Carville meant that the center of Pennsylvania is full of conservative people with conservative values. Pennsylvania may have voted for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, but they also voted for Governor Tom Corbett in 2010, who supports a constitutional amendment to permanently ban same-sex marriage. The ACLU even acknowledged that they brought the suit against Pennsylvania because overturning the same-sex ban in the Republican-controlled legislature looks like a "near-term impossibility."

Same-sex marriage is soon to be legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia, leaving Pennsylvania as the only northeastern state that bans it (aside from New Jersey, which allows civil unions). U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz, who opposed the 1996 ban and plans to challenge Corbett in next year's election, supports the ACLU suit. 

In a conversation with colleagues, Schwartz said, "It is our responsibility, in fact our obligation, as elected officials to assure a society that prohibits discrimination against any class of people."