Gay Marriage Part 2: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

This morning’s Metro proclaimed loudly on the front page “Same-Sex Marriage Ban Fails.” That’s great; great for the people of Massachusetts, awesome for the people of New Jersey, it could even be good news for the citizens of Washington State. For me, the victory is bitter-sweet. It looks like for the foreseeable future the religious-right will not be able to write discrimination against gays and lesbians into the Federal Constitution. It is good that the preeminent governing document of this nation will not have an anti-gay clause in it; still, I’m worried.

The day before a very similar vote happened in a very different city. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and any “legal union identical or substantially equivalent” to marriage (read civil unions). While I am worried that we lost this vote, I’m very concerned with the degree it was lost. The final vote was 137-60; we lost 42 Democrats.

I am surprised on a few levels. The first thing I find surprising is that almost all of Pennsylvania’s Republican caucus in the Assembly is against allowing gays and lesbians to enter civil unions. The second is that half of Pennsylvania’s Democrats are for the same. I don’t believe they are; in fact I believe that most of our legislators are either ignorant on the subject, or think we are. My hypothesis was proven correct when I called to speak with one Democrat representative about the amendment. While he said he would oppose it, he had some sort of idea that we didn’t need to worry about the Pennsylvania amendment because the U.S. Senate just rejected a federal ban on same-sex marriage. Even if the federal government won’t amend its constitution to ban gay marriage, state governments certainly can. Just look at Texas, Alaska, Oregon, Hawaii, Michigan, Alabama, etc. It’s happening here in Pennsylvania and there isn’t a lot we can do.

Maybe not a lot… but a little, and a little is all we need.

The first thing we could do is work to put just one legislative house in Harrisburg under Democratic control. While forty-two Democrats supported this amendment, fifty opposed it. The same thing looks to be happening in Pennsylvania’s Senate. If the Democrats controlled the House for the 2007-2008 session; they could not bring up the amendment at all, effectively killing it. (Read Republicans refusing to allow one-gun-per-month law to come to a vote.) Our best chance of this happening is in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. There are many vulnerable PA House seats in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas. Last month in Chester County, a Democrat won the state senate seat for the first time in 100 years. Taking back a house would be rough, and unlikely, but it’s worth a shot.

The second strategy is to make sure Democrats and moderate Republicans know they will be voting to ban Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships as well as marriage. We would need to get a lot of them in the House to switch their votes next year; thirty-nine to be exact. A more instant action would be to make sure State Senators know about this duel ban. I don’t know how much more “education” will work; I too am tired of “educating” people about basic right and wrong, but too often when I speak to legislators they believe this is a national issue. We are failing as progressives; I am failing as queer, to reach these legislators with what this amendment will really do. Right now the marriage amendment sits in the Senate Judiciary committee with eight Republicans and five Democrats. You can find the members by going to the Pennsylvania Senate’s website.

Regardless of the action that is taken; it needs to happen now. Once this marriage amendment passes, we won’t be able to reverse it in our lifetime. I’m twenty-five years old; that’s a long time to be second-class.

First, call your state senator ASAP. PLEASE!

Thanks for posting on this issue. I'm 34 and you are right, 20, 40 or however many years is a long time to be a second-class citizen. And you are right that we need Democrats to take back either the state House or Senate, preferably both! A closer vote in the House earlier in the evening didn't get widely reported. By a vote of 88-109, the House refused to send the amendment back to committee. A switch of 11 votes would have made the difference. That is not a tiny margin, but it's definitely easier to close that gap than the 136-61 vote you've been reading about everywhere.

But what can you do right now? If you live in Bucks, Chester, Delaware or Montgomery counties, or Northeast Philadelphia, PLEASE call your state senator today. If you can only call in the evening, leave a message on their voice mail. Either way, give your name and say you live in their district, then explain why you oppose the amendment. If you want more info on why the amendment is bad, click here or here.

You can find out who your state senator is by visiting and entering your zip code in the "Find Members" area at the top right. You can use the "Help" link if you don't know your 9-digit Zip+4 code.

Representative Cohen, I compl

Representative Cohen, I completely agree. Sometimes chipping at the issue over time yields the best and usually the only result. But, curiously, I noted at least one member of the Philadelphia contigent missed this important vote,Rep.Donatucci. I hope he is feeling better, I know one vote would not have mattered much, but I cannot imagine missing such an important vote. Generally, what are some of the common reasons why Representatives miss such important votes? This is an interesting civics issue, at least for me.

Thank you for the vote and great idea. Hopefully implementation is not too far away.

Vote On Gay Marriage Obscures Support For Civil Unions

About half the House voted to preserve the possibility of some form of inclusion of rights of couples for gay and lesbian people. In addition to the 61 votes against final passage, over 30 others voted for the Nailor amendment, which would have limited the amendment to strictly banning gay marriage.

We are debating the wrong thing. What we should be debating is what form of recognition of gay and lesbian relationships is acceptable to the legislature. We ought to be moving on the civil unions/domestic partnership debate NOW, as no constitutional amendment is likely to take effect until after November, 2008. If there must be a public vote on gay and lesbian marriage rights, the voters ought to have some experience with that in effect. Experience in Massachusetts led to the abandoning of support for an anti-gay marriage position; experience in California led to legislative passage of a same-sex marriage law, but unfortunately did not lead to Gov. Schwarzegger's signing of the law.

By all means, people should contact the State Senators and urge them not to pass the anti-marriage constitutional amendment. The best thing they could do would be to bury in committee, or just not simply call it up for a vote. Failing that, there should be an amendment introduced limiting the ban to just same-sex marriage, and not civil unions, domestic partnerships, or similar devices. It is quite possible that the advocates would not go along with this kind of change if the Senate made it, and thus kill the constitutional amendment themselves. Even if they did accept it, and it ultimately became law, it would still leave room for legislative action advancing the recognition of the fundamental humanity of gay and lesbian people.

There is always a school of thought that it's either all or nothing:in this case it is to declare that either all possible marriage rights are preserved, or none are worth preserving. I do not believe this view represents a consensus opinion in the gay and lesbian communities. Certainly, Howard Dean's Presidential campaign, in which I actively participated as Dean's lone Mid-Eastern States elected delegate, was fueled by an unprecedented level of support among gays and lesbians, who thought Vermont's civil unions plan--which Dean led the fight for--was a major step forward.

Right now, Pennsylvania gays and lesbians have no marriage rights other than limited adoption and custody rights. We have to move the ball forward to recognize their full humanity as persons. Stopping the anti-gay marriage amendment is by far the best option, but watering it down should be Plan B. Thirty-two years of experience in the legislative process in Pennsylvania has taught me that for those who favor all or nothing, the usual outcome is that they get nothing.

The last time Pennsylvania wrote discrimination into the state constitution was in 1838, when a constitutional convention proposed, and the voters approved, a proposal banning all African Americans in Pennsylvania from voting. That hateful provision took almost 40 years to remove, and is such a blot on Pennsylvania's reputation that it is little publicized today.

We must not repeat the shame of the 19th Century again in the 21st Century.


I spoke with Rep. Donatucci later in the week, while he was in Harrisburg that day he had to leave before the vote took place for his daughter's highschool graduation back here in Philly. Obviously Reps have important things that happen in their family lives and can't be at work till 8PM every day. Rep. Donatucci did say however that he opposed the amendment and will vote against it next year.

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