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- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
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- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
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Civil Unions Bill Introduced With 42 Co-Sponsors
On Valentine's Day, February 14, 2011, I introduced a bill legalizing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples in Pennsylvania with 42 co-sponsors, up from 32 last year. These forty-two co-sponsors represent 21% of the House. Several of the co-sponsors of the civil unions bill joined me and Senator Daylin Leach--sponsor of a marriage equality bill--at a press conference in the Rotunda: Reps. Pam Delissio and Michael O'Brien of Philadelphia, Eugene DePasquale of York, and Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh. Senator Larry Farnese of Philadelphia, a co-sponsor of Senator Leach's bill, also spoke at the press conference.
I believe that civil unions legislation in Pennsylvania has a reasonable chance to be passed into law by the end of 2012--if there is a significant grass roots effort behind it. I am pleased that Mark Stier, the leader of Penn Action, has promised that Penn Action will be putting it on its list of things its supporters should talk to legislators about. I am hopeful that other broad-based groups will do likewise. This is a human rights issue no less than it is a gay and lesbian rights issue.
The support for civil unions in the House is far deeper than its list of co-sponsors. It exists in both Democratic and Republican members. According to a 2009 Franklin and Marshall College Poll, 58% of Pennsylvanians (including 73% of Southeastern suburban residents and 61% of Philadelphians) back civil unions. According to a 2009 Muhlenberg College Poll, 61% of Pennsylvanians back civil unions. I eagerly await further polls: there is no reason to believe that current support is not as higher or higher among the general public than it was then.
For gay and lesbian couples, marriage equality does much more than civil unions. Civil unions are not second class marriages; they are not marriages period. They give the rights of marriage, but they do not give the status of marriage, and the status of marriage is of substantial importance. I am for civil unions at this time because they are possible to achieve in Pennsylvania in the forseeable future and marriage equality is not. Sen. Daylin Leach, frustrated at the resistance from his fellow Senators, joked at a panel discussion we both participated in at the Progressive Summit last month that Pennsylvania will pass marriage equality "just weeks after Mississippi does." That is talking about generations or centuries, not years.
Civil unions are somewhat analagous to the laws which give unmarried mothers the right to child support, which give live-in partners the right to escape domestic violence in women's shelters, and which give ex-partners the right to prevent stalking. In all these cases, marital rights are extended to non-marital partners, but no marriage is created.
I do not believe in historical determinism. I study demographic and opinion trends intensely, but I do not believe that they determine what happens. All they do is offer windows of hope. My view is that we should seize the open space in the windows of hope which make civil unions possible in Pennsylvania, and help our gay and lesbian friends, relatives, and co-workers move substantially closer to equality than they are now.
The quintessential word about Pennsylvania politics is moderation. Moderate policies are inherently more popular in Pennsylvania--and the Pennsylvania legislature--than either liberal policies or conservative policies. Pennsylvania has rejected conservatism in gay and lesbian rights by rejecting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, one of only 21 states to do so. Pennsylvania has rejected liberalism in gay and lesbian rights by not passing an anti-discrimination law to protect them, as 21 states have already done. 5 states--California, Colorado, Hawaii,Oregon and Wisconsin--embraced both sides, banning gay marriage constitutionally and banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Support for civil unions--giving equality of rights but not equality of status--is well within Pennsylvania's tradition of moderation. Winning civil unions while keeping away the constitutional ban on marriage equality is the best we can get in this legislative session. It is considerably better than nothing, and we should go for it.
Civil unions is an inherently moderate, middle of the road position that commands majority support in Pennsylvania.