Monday, June 15, 2009

Gay marriage up for debate in Pa.

even PA knows its inevitable

The Sentinel Online : News : Local : Gay marriage up for debate in Pa.

By Jason Scott, Sentinel Reporter, June 13, 2009

Last updated: Monday, June 15, 2009 8:26 AM EDT

The same-sex marriage debate has come to Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, last week introduced Senate Bill 935 that would offer “full and equal marriage rights” to same-sex couples in the state and legally recognize those marriages performed in other states.

With the recent passing of legislation in New Hampshire and Maine, and the rapidly expanding list of statesjavascript:void(0) considering the approval of gay marriage, the Montgomery County lawmaker said it’s time for Pennsylvania to act.

“In the short term, it’s going to be a tough fight, but in the long term, it’s inevitable,” Leach said Friday, hoping to “speed up” the day when there’s full marriage equality in Pennsylvania. “It’s important that Pennsylvania be part of the discussion.”

While his bill would not require religious institutions to perform any marriage ceremonies or recognize any marriages that they do not wish to sanction, Leach said his legislation would dissolve all of the barriers to building families that gay and lesbian couples currently face, both at the state and federal level, such as the right of survivorship, power to make medical decisions, even the right to hospital visitation.

The bill would repeal the ban on same-sex marriage that the state Legislature approved 13 years ago, which establishes marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and amend the definition of marriage in the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes to read as “a civil contract between two people who enter into matrimony.”

Currently, 30 states have passed amendments banning gay marriage.

Budget first

While the public response so far has been overwhelmingly positive on the side of equality, Leach says, he acknowledges that legislative backing of his bill has been less pronounced because of the controversy that comes with the discussion.

“People tend to run away from controversy,” he said, citing only one co-sponsor, Sen. Larry Farnese, D-1, who represents parts of Philadelphia.

Also, with lawmakers currently working on the state budget, Leach said he expects it will take some time to get consideration in the Senate.

“Introducing it now doesn’t mean it will be considered now,” he said, adding that the budget has “sucked the oxygen out of the room” on anything else legislators would like to work on this term.

Sen. Pat Vance, R-31, agreed that the state’s fiscal situation — a projected $3.2 billion deficit — and debate over next year’s budget is overshadowing everything else.

However, even beyond the budget adoption, she doesn’t feel the positive sentiment is there in the Senate for Leach’s bill.

“At this point, it’s a non-issue,” she said. “I would be very surprised if it comes up for a vote.”

Republican majority

Leach is realistic that his bill will face tough opposition in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 30-20 majority, but he said he is trying to look further down the road.

“At the end of the day, when we look back 20 years from now, we’ll wonder why this was ever controversial,” he said. “The country is moving forward and we’re not going back. What bad thing will happen if equality is granted?”

The Senate also expects an opposing bill this session that would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

Sen. John Eichelberger, R-30, announced last month that he would introduce such legislation, which he said is necessary to strength the 1996 law. He has said writing the ban into the constitution would prevent a judge from overturning the law.

Similar measures in the last two sessions of the legislature have failed.

Amending the constitution requires approval from both the House and Senate in two consecutive two-year sessions before the measure goes to voters for final approval in a statewide referendum.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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