Prop 8 court rulings move pendulum toward marriage equality
August 11, 2010
From the August 11th edition of the Harrisburg Patriot News:
On Friday, the National Organization for Marriage, which favors only heterosexual marriages, will roll into Harrisburg after an exhaustive 20-city tour throughout the East Coast and Midwest.
After last week’s federal court ruling overturning Proposition 8, California’s state constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples, there can be little doubt that the arc of the moral universe is bending toward justice for all families and that the NOM and its supporters are on the wrong side of history.
The NOM’s tour comes just five months after the failure of yet another attempt to amend Pennsylvania’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. We are still a long way from marriage equality in Pennsylvania. Under current law, committed same-sex couples remain strangers.
While Pennsylvania has not written a same-sex marriage ban into its constitution, we do have a so-called “defense” of Marriage Act, which prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states, effectively closing the door to marriage equality.
But there will be a day when same-sex couples will have the freedom to marry, just like their straight friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. They’re not asking for much.
These couples are simply asking for legal recognition of and respect for their relationships, which would afford them access to the more than 1,000 local, state and federal benefits granted to heterosexual couples, and perhaps more importantly, end their status as second-class citizens.
Regardless of their feelings about gay relationships, most Americans and Pennsylvanians believe in basic ideals of fairness and equality. Certainly, blocking gay couples’ access to marriage violates these ideals.
Now two courts have said that bans on same-sex marriage also violate the law. A month before the Prop 8 ruling, a federal court in Massachusetts ruled that the federal DOMA is unconstitutional because it does not grant same-sex couples the same rights as straight couples, violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the same constitutional principle invoked by the court in the Prop 8 case.
These cases have only begun their lengthy paths through the judicial system. Both rulings came from federal district courts, the first stop in the federal judiciary.
Presumably, both cases are headed to their local circuit appeals courts and then, possibly, to the U.S. Supreme Court. The future of this litigation is uncertain, and only a ruling from the Supreme Court would be binding on Pennsylvania.
The work in the courts is only a small sliver of the work that still needs to be done. Pennsylvania legislators are not rushing back to the state Capitol to pass marriage equality because a court in California ruled in favor of it, and there will no doubt be more attempts to pass a marriage ban here in Pennsylvania.
Perhaps most importantly, gay Pennsylvanians and their allies must continue to talk with their families and friends about the lives that same-sex couples lead and the disadvantages they face as strangers under the law. By having these conversations, the LGBT community and its allies win hearts and minds and create a world where all families are respected and valued.
Defeating Proposition 8 in a courtroom 3,000 miles away might have minimal legal impact on Pennsylvania for now, but the court’s ruling shook the foundations on which the NOM and others in the commonwealth who would deny equality for same-sex couples stand.
The recent court rulings are reminders that, with time, American values of fairness and equality for all always triumph over one group’s antipathy toward another group.
Andy Hoover is legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Ted Martin is executive director of Equality Pennsylvania.