October 3, 2013 at 10:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Pennsylvania lawmakers to introduce same-sex marriage bill

Brian Sims, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

State Reps. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Pennsylvania lawmakers on Thursday will introduce a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the state.

State Reps. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) and Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery County) made the formal announcement during a press conference in Philadelphia. State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County,) who introduced his own same-sex measure in the Pennsylvania Senate in May, is among the other lawmakers who also attended.

“This legislation ensures that LGBT people, just like me, are one step closer to realizing the promise of a state and local Constitution that guarantees that our rights and our lives are equal to anyone else’s,” Sims told the Washington Blade late on Wednesday.

McCarter added he feels this issue is more than extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

“This is about ensuring all Pennsylvanians have equal benefits and protections before the law,” he said. “Marriage equality and the benefits associated with it need to be afforded to all of our citizens.”

Neighboring Maryland, Delaware and New York are among the 13 states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

The American Civil Liberties Union in July filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s statutory gay marriage ban on behalf of 11 same-sex couples and a widow.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane subsequently announced she would not defend the law in court. Governor Tom Corbett has said his administration would defend the same-sex marriage ban.

Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes in July began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman in August officiated a gay couple’s wedding at his suburban Pittsburgh home.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini last month ruled that Hanes cannot issue additional marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Hanes, who issued marriage licenses to 118 same-sex couples before Pellegrini issued his injunction, has appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

A Franklin and Marshall College poll in May found 54 percent of respondents support same-sex marriage, compared to 41 percent who oppose the issue. The same institution in August released a survey in which 76 percent of respondents said in response to a question about Harris’ decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples that it is unacceptable for state and local officials to ignore laws with which they disagree.

Gay nuptials measure has more than 30 co-sponsors

The same-sex marriage bill has bi-partisan support with 34 co-sponsors. They include state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Alleghany County) who co-chairs the LGBT Equality Caucus and state Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester County.)

State Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon County,) who came out as gay last December, has yet to co-sponsor the measure.

Pennsylvania is among the 29 states without an LGBT-inclusive statewide anti-discrimination law, although lawmakers in May introduced two bills that would protect commonwealth residents in housing, employment and public accommodation based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Legislators in January also introduced an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying measure and bills that would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law.

Sims remains optimistic lawmakers will approve the same-sex marriage measure.

“There is no question, even among the opposition, that marriage equality will become the law of the land,” he told the Blade. “The larger question of ‘when’ depends on how much pressure the governor and the Republican legislature feel during the election cycle.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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