There have been significant developments in the ongoing struggle for equal human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians. Shortly after the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of marriage equality for LGBT Americans, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania announced that they are challenging Pennsylvania’s statewide marriage equality ban in court, and Democratic Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that she will not defend the state’s marriage equality ban in court because she thinks it is unconstitutional. At the same time, a county commissioner just issued the first marriage license ever granted to a same-sex couple in Pennsylvania history.
According to Mary Wilson of WITF, “The [ACLU of PA] suit asks a federal judge to strike down the state’s 1996 prohibition on gay marriage as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. It names 23 plaintiffs – gay and lesbian couples, one widow, and two teenage daughters of a couple.” A couple days after the suit was announced, the AP reported that “Pennsylvania’s elected attorney general [Democrat Kathleen Kane] said … she will not defend [the state marriage equality ban] from a legal challenge in federal court, meaning the task will be left up to Gov. Tom Corbett. ‘Today, the attorney general chooses to protect all those without high-priced lawyers, all those who suffer discrimination and inequality, those thousands of families who have been denied of the dignity and respect that the constitution protects and guarantees in marriage equality,’ Kane said. ‘Today we represent everyone who does not have representation.’” And if those of us in favor of LGBT equality need any further reason to be optimistic, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the judge assigned to the case is the same judge who stopped “intelligent design” from being taught in PA public schools.
But with all this really big news about progress Pennsylvania seems like it may be about to make in granting equal human rights to LGBT people, there’s also a noteworthy symbolic step forward that’s been achieved. Marriage licenses have been granted to LGBT couples for the first time in Pennsylvania history thanks to Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, who said in a press release:
When I took the oath of office 19 months ago, I swore to uphold the U.S. and the Pennsylvania Constitutions. Article 1 Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, aptly entitled ‘Inherent rights of mankind,’ says ‘all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights,’ among which is ‘pursuing their own happiness.’
Article 1, Section 26 of the Constitution says, ‘Neither the Commonwealth nor any political subdivision thereof shall deny to any person the enjoyment of any civil right, nor discriminate against any person in the exercise of any civil right.’
Furthermore, Article 1 Section 28 says, ‘Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the sex of the individual.’
The licenses won’t mean full equality until the state marriage equality ban is officially off the books, but as progressives I think we should gladly take each small step forward we can get. My heartfelt congratulations to all the happy couples, and my appreciation and praise to Kathleen Kane and D. Bruce Hanes.